By 2030, United Airlines plans to hire at least 10,000 pilots to both fill retirement vacancies and to fly its additional 500+ new aircraft expected to be online by that date. A bold plan like this requires bold execution. United opened United Aviate Academy (UAA) in December 2021 with the goal of training half of those needed pilots at a rate of 500 a year to maintain a strong pipeline of qualified aviators for years to come. United is the only major U.S. airline to own a flight training school.
FRASCA is excited to be a part of this industry-leading pilot pipeline program. United purchased seven FRASCA flight simulators for UAA, two Cirrus AATDs and two Piper Seminole AATDs. Five of these simulators feature wraparound visual displays. The first simulator was delivered in April 2022 and all are making a significant impact towards UAA’s flight training program.
FRASCA sat down with UAA CEO Dana Donati, a former airline captain herself, to learn more about how the Academy is using the simulators and how they support its high-quality flight training program.
United is investing quite a bit to ensure a strong pipeline of quality pilots. Can you tell me about your UAA program offering?
UAA represents a significant investment in United’s pilot training program that will create additional pathways to the flight deck for underrepresented groups of aspiring aviators.
Students can begin flying for United in as little as five years; they will enter the broader Aviate pilot development program ecosystem after accomplishing their private pilot certificate at the Academy.
UAA’s first class of students was 80 percent women and people of color, which outpaced our goal of at least half of our students being women and people of color.
“We can practice a lot of the instrument procedures in the simulator without the need to compete with other flight schools in the area for airspace and controller time.”
What have you seen students gain the most from the FRASCA simulators?
I have seen students gain a lot of benefit in their private pilot training. The simulators are a great way to introduce our procedures to new students. Instead of spending time in the aircraft to review checklists, call outs, and flows, our students conduct this training in the simulators, which enhances their level of knowledge in a short amount of time. Another area where we see significant gain for our students is during instrument training. UAA students conduct several approaches and holding procedures in the simulator, which helps build a solid instrument training foundation. We can practice a lot of the instrument procedures in the simulator without the need to compete with other flight schools in the area for airspace and controller time.
How have the wraparound visual displays affected your training program?
The wraparound visuals provide the sensation of a motion simulator. When performing maneuvers and landings in visual flight conditions, the wraparound visuals can simulate what the student would experience up in the air. The visual range and sight picture allow the student to conduct training tasks they will do in the aircraft in a very realistic environment.
You received your first FRASCA simulator in April 2022. How would you describe your experience so far?
Our FRASCA simulators have been incorporated in our training program since they were delivered. Although the FAA only recognizes a specific amount of simulator hours of training toward a certificate, we also use our simulators as procedure trainers for students onboarding into our program.
Our students spend a few days running through checklists, flows, and call outs in the simulator before they get into the aircraft. UAA students are required to know a lot of information, so conducting procedures training in the simulator before they get into the aircraft has helped accelerate our training program.
For our instrument students, the FAA accepts several hours of simulator training toward the rating and the simulator, making it a great resource for them. The simulator can be set to reflect instrument meteorological conditions, which enhances the students training experience. UAA instructors and students can complete several instrument approaches in one simulator session, really fine-tuning approaches, instead of spending time flying the aircraft from airport to airport to conduct approaches.
How are the simulators affecting your training program on a whole?
The simulators are providing a positive effect on our students and their training. We are seeing a decreased training footprint for our students who used the simulators as procedural trainers. This training is helping them in the aircraft and has decreased the time spent working on their private certification. For our instrument students, the simulator has been a perfect training tool, allowing them to practice a variety of instrument approaches and holding procedures. The different scenarios we can give them in a simulator make them knowledgeable and experienced instrument rated pilots.
Given United’s plans to hire 10,000 new pilots by 2030, have you seen an enhanced or improved capability to move pilots through your program by leveraging the FRASCA simulators?
These simulators allow us to provide our students with a high-quality training program that is highly efficient, something that is key to meeting our goals of training 5,000 of the pilots we need by 2030 at UAA.
Every one of our students will conduct training in the simulators during their time at UAA. Our focus currently is to have private pilot students and instrument students conduct training in the simulator. As training enhances at UAA, we will see the use of simulators in every training certificate we provide.
What is most important to you when it comes to training your students?
What is most important to UAA is safety. By incorporating simulator training into our curriculum, we can observe safety and provide the students specific areas of focus in the form of decision-making skills, CRM, and TEM.
What factors influenced your choice for FRASCA as your simulator provider?
UAA was very excited to work with FRASCA. FRASCA is a well-known company in aviation and has a reputation of making quality flight simulators. Having a simulator that looks exactly like the aircraft is key to providing a quality flight training program with an emphasis on standardization. Being able to go from Cirrus TRAC 20 aircraft to FRASCA and having the students utilize the same flows, procedures, and call outs is important in our environment. FRASCA is great to work with and they understand the importance of creating a quality training resource for training programs like UAA.
“I really like the wraparound screen and the flight deck of the simulator.”
What features do you like most about your FRASCA simulators?
I really like the wraparound screen and the flight deck of the simulator. The simulator feels like the aircraft and the student can complete several training items in the simulators because of the wraparound screen. The visual effect is also important in our training, allowing us to conduct a multitude of realistic scenarios that really enhance the training experience.
What advice would you give others looking to buy a simulator?
Simulators are essential to flight training. They help enhance training by creating a variety of events you can’t safely simulate in the aircraft. Simulators provide real world situations, and those experiences are invaluable to a student’s learning.