A Turn to Simulation

As a weather-driven event, aircraft deicing allows for little practical training before operators are tested on the deicing pad. Evolving simulation technology has presented another training option.

It’s a tool that developers have claimed the benefits to include familiarizing operators with equipment and the deicing process without the dangers encountered on the ramp, reducing the cost associated with running equipment for training, as well as an opportunity to work on team dynamics.

From Computer to Cab
Dennis Endres, supervisor of deicing operations and quality control at ASIG, has used a Global Ground Support deicing simulator for training and has seen an advantage for new recruits.
Having trained a new recruit on the simulator, Endres notes that the operator had a high level of performance in the field. “It gave him the ground level instruction to not only understand what he had to do, but to know what he was going to be up against once he actually did get in there,” he says. “When we actually put him in a deice truck and allowed him to deice an airplane for the first time, it was if he had never stepped foot in a simulator and had maybe two or three years of deicing experience.”

Endres adds that the recruit will be brought back to train other operators on the simulator.

“It’s a great option,” he says. “You’re not spraying deicing fluid; you’re not operating trucks. And if you get somebody who is a little bit leery of getting close to a piece of equipment, you certainly want them to damage something in the simulator in reference to running into an airplane. All in all the time and expense is well worth it.”

Global Ground Support
It’s a sentiment that developers such as Global Ground Support LLC hope will catch on.

As a manufacturer of deicing trucks, Global Ground Support rolled out the initial version in 2007. It began developing the simulator as an option for customers to familiarize themselves with its deicing trucks — and ultimately it has served as a selling advantage.

“We had a customer that required a simulator,” says Jeff Walsh, vice president of sales and service at Global Ground Support. “In order for us to bid on this large deicer purchase, we had to have a simulator.”

The company set out to create its own simulator, working with ForgeFx, a software development company. Since its inception, the simulator has undergone several updates, with the newest version due out in August 2009. It will feature the actual joysticks from Global deicing trucks, which Walsh says will enable the trainees to better acquaint themselves with operating the equipment. The newest version will also feature two more models of the company’s deicing trucks, the ER2875 and 2200 open bucket.

The company has also set a focus on improving the deicing experience. Walsh says the simulator now includes a fluid dynamics package and in August will feature 10 models of aircraft.

And the development goes on. The company is also working on adding a component to account for interplay between wind speed and fluid dispensation, according
to Walsh.

MPRI: gForce Product Division
MPRI: gForce Products Division has also developed a simulator for the market. Rolling out the initial version in 2006, the company partnered with Vestergaard and JBT AeroTech to include its deicing equipment in the software. Apart from the equipment design, MPRI has also focused on upgrading the deicing experience.

“We started out approaching it as what we call a ‘part-task’ simulator,” says Jeffery Kleinsorge, program director of MPRI gForce Products. “You modify the joystick unit so that it can be plugged into a computer with a simulated airport environment. But then our next step was to actually focus on the deicing task. Now, in addition to becoming familiar with deicing equipment, you can actually use that deicer to melt the snow off an aircraft.”

The company has developed the simulator with a “physics engine,” which Kleinsorge says allows the program to be flexible and accurate to various situations.

Servisair initially implemented the gForce simulator at its central deicing facility at Toronto Pearson International Airport in 2006 for training on its Vestergaard Elephant Beta and Beta-15 deicing trucks. It has experienced the upgrades made to the software. “There are now 12 aircraft types we can select to train on. The graphics are much smoother,” says Chris Schock, deicing training supervisor for Servisair. “I guess the biggest selling feature is the physics package that they’ve implemented into it. Before basically the snow would come off in squares; now we can select variable amounts of both snow and ice, and it is a more accurate representation of how it really appears on the aircraft. The contamination will actually come off the aircraft surfaces how it does in the real world.”

Servisair has since added an additional simulator at the facility for two operators to use simultaneously to capitalize on the teamwork benefits. “It’s a team environment out there,” Schock says. “We want to promote and encourage that teamwork environment through team-based learning.

“It’s more efficient. On the simulator not only do we deice, simulate vehicle movement and positioning … we now can encompass many different aspects of the practical training curriculum on the simulator including communications and proper contamination removal techniques,” he says.

MPRI has continued to improve the technology and is currently working to accurately portray the “physical aspects” of weather, including precipitation and wind that could occur during deicing, according to Kleinsorge.

Deicing Simulation Heats Up
Another company has taken note of the benefits of simulated training for deicing. KaTron Inc., based in Turkey, is currently developing software for deicing. The simulation company has been in the business of developing technology for the defense aerospace industry, and looked to deicing as another opportunity.

“In our region what we learned was most of the airlines don’t have much opportunity for deicing, but to continue certifications, they have to do training every year ... the best solution is to get the training on the simulators,” says Tarcan Kiper, CEO of KaTron.

“We have a different design approach for deicing,” he says. “It’s not a desktop system, like a computer game. We build the replica of the actual equipment, but this replica equipment doesn’t sprout any chemicals; it’s on the virtual screen. We think this is a better way to train any operator using deicing equipment.”

Kiper says the company should have a version of the simulator available in a few months, but they are working to find partners in OEMs to move forward.

Simulation, a Larger Trend
KaTron has also developed a reconfigurable pushback simulator both for conventional and towbarless operations, and is expanding into other types of ground support equipment, according to Kiper.

MPRI also developed a simulator for conventional pushbacks. At the inter airport Europe 2009 show in Munich in October, the company says it plans to unveil a towbarless tractor simulator, which it partnered with JBT AeroTech to create for its Expediter line of towbarless tractors.

Global Ground Support has started the initial development of a pushback simulator, according to Walsh.

Airside SimuDrive, in partnership with Dinther Product Design Ltd., has developed another type of simulation that aims to train ramp employees to drive safely on the ramp. They have created a program that puts the driver behind the wheel of a generic vehicle or a generic pushback tractor — which can be provided with customizable parameters — and was designed to allow a user to familiarize themselves with driving on the ramp around aircraft.

“The simulator runs scenarios where airside drivers are forced to make decisions and apply airside driving rules,” says Paul van Dinther of Dinther Product Design. “These scenarios can include theory questions where the simulator decides based on performance which questions to ask.”

The software was rolled out in 2006. “We decided that it was about time something was done to improve the standard for ramp workers … but nothing to our mind had at that time been aimed exclusively at the airport environment,” says Norman Hogwood, co-director of Airside SimuDrive. “It is also easy to replicate the specific airfield, aircraft types and equipment types of the specific location of the airport.”

Simulation technology seems here to stay, as Paul van Dinther points out that the caliber of technology and the cost aspect make sense for an airline or ground handling company looking for training options. “Technology has advanced so much and so fast that these days a computer capable to run a full blown visual system for big displays doesn’t cost the world anymore,” he says. “So the cost of equipment has come down a lot.”

Kleinsorge agrees that simulation represents the future of training for some operations on the ramp. “For the young generation, this is how they learn,” Kleinsorge says. “It’s efficient, it saves a lot of money; you can do it faster and less expensively.”

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