Making Sims Affordable

Redbird Flight Simulations is on a mission to extend the reach of training technology


“It took FAA a long time to accept that technology was moving forward. But there was a band of people at the FAA that were pushing for FAA to get caught up with where technology is and what simulators really should be. Around 2005 they changed the way they did their certification and developed two new certification levels — the basic aviation training device and the advanced aviation training device. It allows for companies like ours that develop flight simulators; it makes it easier for us to get certification, and the certification takes into account what technology can now do.

“The FMX is above and beyond the AATD spec. There is a lot the FMX can do that the FAA never thought technology was available to do. In fact, most people in the industry didn’t think it.”

Price Points

Gregoire relates that when the company was developing its products, officials came across an industry article which suggested that full-motion flight simulation could never be affordable, at least not for a decade or more. “We took that as a challenge,” he says. “We knew we were developing a full-motion platform that was going to be affordable, but hadn’t openly announced it.

“To this day we have people who ask, how do you make it for this price? It’s the state of technology; and it’s the approach that we have to business. It’s the Dell model; it’s take the best of the best off-the-shelf components, integrate them, and develop something that can be much better for a lower price.”

According to Gregoire, Redbird could sell the FMX units for as much as $200,000, and while it wouldn’t sell as many it still would be profitable. The model, however, is to penetrate the market at a moderate price. “That’s our model — democratize the marketplace. The point of this whole thing was to get simulators out there.

“We’re seeing flights schools that previously did not have the means to buy a simulator at all buying our sims. And now they can add that value to their customers. And most flight schools are using the sim as a marketing tool as well.

“As a student, which school is more attractive — one with a sim or one without?”

Gregoire says that most customers first express disbelief at the price and the product, and are used to simulators costing as much as a quarter million dollars. He says, “In the case of some of our competitors, a stationary unit with one forward looking screen can cost $100,000. We’re giving you wrap-around visuals; an interchangeable cockpit; all this flexibility and a motion platform, for $60,000.

“Early on we had a bit of an issue with the psychology of the pricing — it must be garbage for $60,000. But then they fly it and buy it almost on the spot.”

The company is considering offering a financing program for flight schools, and provides marketing assistance. Having a simulator can be a marketing edge, says Gregoire.

“Financial institutions are pretty tight with their money; and flight schools often aren’t a prime candidate for financing. Some are. They’re like other small businesses,” he explains.

“There are places out there that will finance these kind of sims but the interest rate is pretty high. It’s often a better option for people to find financing on their own. In the next year I think we’ll probably start offering something through this company. We’re a relatively young company; we can’t take on the kind of unsecured credit that would be required, or to push the quantity to offset the risk.”

PROMOTING THE INDUSTRY

In line with its mission to make learning to fly and stay current more affordable, Redbird Flight Simulations has become active in aviation associations. It recently became a member of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, and supports the Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association, as evidenced by its participation in this fall’s annual convention. The company also supports the University Aviation Association.
Says Gregoire, “We’re doing something that’s really moving general aviation forward. It’s really promoting the growth of general aviation.

“With the state of GA today, a lot of it comes down to the cost of operating aircraft; of people learning to fly. The reason our pilot population is decreasing is because the salaries aren’t going up for professional pilots, and it’s getting more expensive every year to fly. Expenses aren’t going down.

“We’re bringing the price for training down. This is all about making aviation more accessible.

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