PAST & PRESENT
FlightSafety Intl celebrates 62 years of training success
Market leader in simulation keeps
getting bigger and better.
By Grant McLaren
FlightSafety's new "high bay" simulation design and manufacturing center accommodates up to 19 full flight simulators in final stages of production.
FlightSafety International is the largest provider of pilot training services to the corporate aviation industry and has significant market share in both military and commercial training markets.
It started small and took calculated creative risks to get its fledgling training business off the ground 62 years ago.
Founder Al Ueltschi was working as a personal pilot for Pan Am Founder & CEO Juan Trippe in the late 1940s, when he sensed the opportunity to develop a profitable business specializing in flight training.
His initial focus was in providing effective, safe and cost efficient training, using flight simulator technology, for the fledgling corporate aviation industry.
In those days business aviation was in its infancy with a relatively small number of corporate pilots flying converted military and commercial aircraft for business leaders and wealthy individuals. These pilots did not have, and were not required to undergo, any formal training and Ueltschi envisioned developing a market niche that today has positioned FlightSafety International as the world's foremost aviation training organization.
FlightSafety Founder Al Ueltschi
Ueltschi used his Pan Am salary to cover living expenses and, later, to raise investment capital to acquire circa 1930s mechanically controlled ex-military Link Trainers. FlightSafety came into being in 1951 and grew steadily, spectacularly at times, over the years.
FlightSafety, a division of Berkshire Hathaway since 1996, provides over 1 million hours of training each year to fixed and rotary-wing pilots, maintenance technicians, dispatchers and flight attendants in corporate, commercial and military operations from 154 countries and independent territories.
Over the years significant inroads have been achieved in commercial airline and military training markets with facilities and simulators positioned close to airline markets and military establishments. Today, FlightSafety has the world's largest fleet of full flight simulators, learning centers and training locations in addition to manufacturing latest technology flight simulators and visual simulation systems.
Developing a business niche
The need for professional flight training has been with us for decades as evidenced by the fact that an estimated 65% of aircraft accidents can still be attributed to human error. Ueltschi's genius was in developing a means in which to provide this needed training efficiently and cost-effectively to a wide swath of aviation users.
Simulator training is far less expensive and less risky than doing training in the aircraft itself and enables pilot trainees to practice both normal and emergency procedures under controlled conditions.
Ueltschi initially zeroed in on training pilots flying private aircraft for corporate executives and mortgaged his house for startup capital. Early clients included Eastman Kodak, Burlington Industries, National Distillers—corporate operators looking to train their pilots.
FlightSafety's success over the years was largely a result of Ueltschi convincing aircraft operators, and later aircraft manufacturers, that he could do a better job of training pilots than they could themselves, and for less money. Introduction of Dassault Falcons, HS125s, Learjets, Gulfstreams, Jet Commanders, Sabreliners and JetStars during the 1960s changed business aviation and helped propel the FlightSafety business model forward.
The complexity of these aircraft convinced owners and operators of the need for professional training. FlightSafety stepped in with comprehensive programs and computerized flight simulators run by then state-of-the-art analog computers and hydraulic motion bases.
Learjet became the first corporate jet manufacturer to sign up with FlightSafety, and a training center, with Learjet simulator, was established in Wichita KS to support initial and recurrent pilot training.
(L–R) An early client with Ueltschi in one of the original 4 Link Translators.
By 1978 FlightSafety was an authorized training organization for 15 aircraft manufacturers and had 18 learning centers in the US, Canada and Europe. FlightSafety's business model always had a similar theme—to supply initial and recurrent training for buyers of aircraft at simulator-equipped training centers near OEM manufacturing facilities.
FlightSafety training soon became the industry standard. While FlightSafety has, for years, dominated corporate pilot training market inroads into commercial airline and military pilot training have also been highly successful.
By the early 1990s FlightSafety had more than 100 full flight simulators deployed worldwide and had developed strong relationships in commercial airline training with facilities and simulators positioned close to airline markets—both overseas and stateside.
On the military training front FlightSafety Services, formed in 1988 through acquisition of United Airlines Services Corp, currently has long-term training contacts for the US armed forces and has operations at 15 military bases.
Ueltschi flew for Pan American Airways and was later assigned as CEO Juan Trippe's pilot.
Meanwhile, FlightSafety began manufacturing full flight simulators and this helped account for a growing share of overall revenue. Primary reason for entering the simulator manufacturing business was to ensure a controllable, dependable and cost effective supply of flight simulators and learning devices for use at FlightSafety's learning centers.
Since 1978 FlightSafety has designed and manufactured more than 800 full flight simulators for commercial and military customers for use at its learning centers worldwide.
In the late 1990s Boeing reportedly considered buying FlightSafety but, ultimately, the company was sold to Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway in 1997 for $1.5 billion.
Today, under Berkshire Hathaway's ownership, FlightSafety operates the world's largest fleet of advanced full flight simulators at learning centers and training locations in the US, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Japan, South Africa, the Netherlands, and the UK.