A version of this article appears in the June 16 edition of Aviation Week & Space Technology.
The IBM Selectric repairman, Kodachrome developer, Pontiac GTO parts supplier—most have vanished, along with the products that gave them purpose. But for those who managed to hang on, business today could be steady, even brisk, because there will always be stalwarts who cherish their typewriters, their 35-mm SLRs, and their 390-hp, four-barrel carbureated muscle cars and want them kept in good running order.
And so it is with SimCom, business aviation’s other simulator-based training provider. Let FlightSafety International guide its gilded Gulfstream G650 and Citation X crews, and leave the Global 6000 and BBJ front-seaters to CAE. SimCom is perfectly content to help aviators learn the flight deck intricacies of the Aerostar, MU-2, Beech Duke, Piper Cheyenne,Conquest, Turbo Commander and Westwind II, among others. And it extends the same service to regional pilots assigned to the 2000, Jetstream 41, even the Dornier 328 jet.
Specializing in “orphan” airplane instruction along with training for in-production aircraft has served the Florida-based company well. Now in its 25th year, SimCom—a contraction of “simulator company”—has 240 instructors, technicians and administrative personnel primarily based among its learning centers in Orlando, Fla., Dallas-Fort Worth, and Glendale and Scottsdale, Ariz. It also has a small facility in Humberside, England, where it conducts Jetstream training.
In addition to orphan airplanes, SimCom is the official trainer for the Daher-Socata TBM series, thePC-12, the Eclipse 500/550 very light jet and most Piper models. It also offers maintenance training and specialty courses such as turbine transition, pinch-hitter and high-altitude endorsement.
The company operates a fleet of more than 50 simulators; some came from its own production facility in Orlando, but many came as part of a training program acquisition. As a result, the fleet is a hodgepodge of technology, ranging from analog devices to state-of-the-art Level D full-flight simulators.
One of the largest fleet expansions occurred in 2011 when SimCom acquired 14 simulators of mostly owner-flown type models from FlightSafety. A key player in that deal was Eric Hinson, then FlightSafety’s executive vice president. He must have been satisfied that SimCom got its money’s worth, because the following year he accepted the invitation to become its president and CEO.
According to Hinson—a former Navypilot and son of former Administrator and Midway Airlines founder David Hinson—SimCom’s business has evolved from its initial focus on nonprofessional pilots operating their own aircraft, to serving pilots in what he calls “the secondary jet market,” that is, older Lear 35s, Westwinds, Citation IIs and Beechjets that are into their second or third owners and are flown by professionals. Another growing market is orphaned regional aircraft; “We’ve sort of cornered that market,” he says. “We like orphans. They all need good homes.”
In 1999 SimCom was acquired by J.W. Childs Associates, a Boston-based private equity group. It had earlier bought the Pan Am Training Academy in Florida and saw SimCom as a complementary investment. But the academy primarily served international students, a customer stream that largely dried up after the 9/11 attacks, and Childs sold the operation.
However, Hinson says the company likes the business aviation market and SimCom’s role within it.
Going forward, Hinson says his company’s training style—that is, typically two or three students per instructor, and training tailored to individual needs—will not change. Also unchanged will be its aversion to serving professional pilots flying new model, top-of-the-line aircraft. For that market, “We’ll let FlightSafety and CAE duke it out,” he says. “There are plenty of other markets for us.”
Growth could be organic or through more acquisitions, or both, he says. And distance learning will likely become increasingly important as a way to prepare students for training sessions and as a computer-savvy generation of pilots dominates.
“When we say SimCom’s 25 years old, people typically go, ‘Wow! It is?’” Hinson says. “I very much applaud what the [former leaders] have been able to accomplish. I think we’ve built a good foundation, and our task and objective is to continue what SimCom does and improve on the model. It’s about the value proposition. We want people who come here and train to say, ‘You’ve exceeded my expectations.’”