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Canadian North simulator shown off to Edmonton airport, brings pilot training closer to real thing

When Canadian North showed off its new Boeing 737NG flight simulator at Edmonton International Airport this week, it let a few dignitaries try a scenario where the jet flipped upside down and dove nose-first towards an Arctic lake.

The simulator’s cabin is mounted on hydraulic posts, so the nose actually pointed down and the scene outside the windows was so detailed that waves on the lake were visible.

It was unnerving for the non-pilots, and it’s meant to rattle experienced aviators, too.

“It’s to assess the pilot with the startle factor, to make sure that they can recover the airplane,” said Gerald Skocdopole, the airline’s chief 737 pilot.

“We’ve all seen the stories on the news where the pilots hit severe turbulence and lose control of the airplane or (hit) wake turbulence.

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“That’s the sort of stuff we train for.”

Later, Skocdopole and Richard de Aguayo, a Canadian North captain and a member of the airline’s training department, flew a scenario where after taking off from Edmonton, the plane struck birds and an engine caught fire. While de Aguayo flew the plane, Skocdopole took to the radio.

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“Edmonton Centre, pan, pan, pan, pan. Emergency in progress. Stand by.”

Following that, they performed a landing in Iqaluit with blowing snow. Visibility was down to less than seven kilometres and the runway was slippery.

“We often operate these aircraft to the max of their performance. We are landing on shorter runways than one would see in Toronto, Edmonton, Vancouver, Montreal. The weather, the facilities that the airports provide and how rapidly they can remove snow for us (is different),” de Aguayo said.

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The simulator was built by Canadian company CAE and is part of a new 9,000-square-metre training centre Canadian North is opening in Edmonton.

It isn’t the airline’s first simulator for a 737. It had another from 2015, but it’s for earlier models of the Boeing jet, And as the airline transitions to new, more efficient versions, pilots had to travel to other cities and use other airlines’ equipment.

It’s not just new pilots who need training. Experienced ones need to regularly recertify on simulators. So the airline says it’s more efficient to buy a new simulator than take flight crews off-line, sometimes for weeks, to enable them to travel for training.

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The training centre is in Edmonton because it’s a hub for Canadian North’s operations in the western Arctic, where for many communities, planes are a lifeline to the south.

The new simulator’s level of realism is stark compared with what was available a few decades ago when Skocdopole became a pilot.

“You would just have a black screen with some little green light points on it, and that was it. And you could kind of make out a runway,” he said.

Both pilots agreed the more realistic the simulator, the better prepared a pilot will be.

“You forget that you’re in a simulator. With the motions, with the visuals, with the sounds and the tactile feel that we get are reproduced to such a manner that your heart does get beating,” de Aguayo said.


&© 2024 The Canadian Press

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