(Bloomberg) -- Boeing Co.’s surprise about-face in recommending that 737 Max pilots now complete training in simulators before flying the still-grounded airliner shocked many in the aviation world -- except perhaps one of the leading manufacturers of the devices.
Canada’s CAE Inc., anticipating a surge in demand for pilot training, in November said it had begun to make 737 Max full-flight simulators without customer orders in hand, an unusual step in the build-to-order industry. The company believed more training would be needed in the wake of 737 Max crisis and wanted to be in a position to quickly supply airlines with the machines that can cost as much as $20 million apiece, CAE spokeswoman Helene Gagnon said.
“We’re kind of happy that we made the decision back in November to do that,” she said.
CAE shares rose as much as 4.4% on Wednesday after Boeing’s recommendation for simulator training the day before to trade at $37.38 at 11:54 a.m. in Toronto trading. The gains were the company’s largest since Nov. 13.
Weighing roughly as much as a school bus and standing two stories or more in height, the latest generation of flight simulators are a cross between super computers and the world’s most sophisticated gaming platforms.
Capsules the size of a small apartment contain near-exact replicas of the cockpit -- from the position of each switch to the feel of the flight controls -- and advanced video systems that display terrain near airports with high fidelity. Massive hydraulic lifts hoist, lower and tilt the simulated cockpit to create the illusion of movement through nearly any phase of a flight.
Programming the simulator for snowy weather, for example, can show snow plows at work as pilots perform virtual taxis on the ground. Even passengers walking through a realistic-looking terminal can be seen when a plane is parked at a gate.
CAE is the leading manufacturer of full-flight simulators, according to the company. As of mid-November, the company had received 48 orders 737 Max simulators and delivered 23 to airlines through December, Gagnon said. Competitors include L3 Harris Technologies Inc., which declined to comment, and Textron Inc.-owned Tru Simulation + Training Inc. A spokeswoman for the Textron unit didn’t return a message seeking comment.
Boeing on Tuesday abandoned its long-held stance that pilots of an older 737 model would only need a short computer course to fly the Max, recommending simulator training before taking flight.
Mandating simulator sessions will be costly and could delay airlines being able to add the 737 Max to their schedules.
The Federal Aviation Administration and other aviation regulators must still determine the scope and rigor of any additional pilot training needed. But the machines could become a hot commodity as Southwest Airlines Co., American Airlines Group Inc. and United Airlines Holdings Inc. put thousands of 737 pilots through their paces after regulators give final approval to training protocols for the still-grounded jet.
Estimates vary, but U.S. airlines own only a few 737 Max flight simulators, and Boeing owns several others. Compare that to more than 80 simulators modeled after the 737 NG family that preceded the Max that are held by airlines, according to an FAA-maintained list.
Bloomberg has reported that Boeing is exploring converting the simulators designed for the previous generation of 737s to train pilots on the Max.
--With assistance from Susan Decker.
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