Call it Florida’s “Sim City.”
Clustered along Northwest 36th Street in the area along Miami International Airport’s northern border are the companies and schools that house most of South Florida’s 62 FAA-approved airline flight simulators. Private and commercial pilots, and many aviation professionals, learn and hone their craft on the devices, which re-create the experience of aircraft flight. Only Atlanta, with 64, and the Dallas-Fort Worth area, with 122, currently have more.
In South Florida, three companies dominate the pilot-training landscape. As of Aug. 1, Airbus and Boeing, the world’s largest aircraft manufacturers, and Pan Am International Flight Academy had a total of 53 simulators at their training centers on Northwest 36th Street. That number may rise — pushing the region’s prominence higher — as Boeing concentrates all its North American flight and maintenance training at its Virginia Gardens campus.
“I don’t think there’s any other place in the world that has that many “sims” in three-mile radius,” said Gregory Darrow, senior director of sales and marketing at Pan Am International Flight Academy, the third of the trio. The price of a full-motion flight simulator generally ranges from $20 million to $30 million. “We just brought in two new [Boeing] 777 sims and a 747-400 sim,” said Darrow.
As these and other companies with South Florida facilities grow, so does the region’s reputation as a leading flight-training location. And while the “Big Three” companies with facilities on Northwest 36th Street are the giants on the pilot-training landscape, there are also many other contenders — from small private schools to college campuses — throughout South Florida as well as near MIA..
Some industry experts, noting the strong job prospects for pilots in many parts of the globe, foresee more visitors at South Florida training sites. Area hotels and businesses would benefit, they add. They remark on the sophistication and variety of training opportunities; slightly more than half of South Florida flight simulators are “Level D” models, for instance — the kind that qualify pilots to land an aircraft without requiring an actual flight test.
Less optimistic, however, are observers who also look at the increasing costs and requirements of gaining a pilot’s license. For them, the training industry faces the prospect of a bumpy ride.
Boeing had considered consolidating its North American training in Atlanta or Seattle but picked the Miami area instead, said Bob Bellitto, global sales leader of Boeing Flight Services, the company’s training unit.
“We’re going to add more than $100 million worth of simulators and devices this year, which basically doubles our investment in the [Miami] campus. So it’s very significant,” Bellitto said. “Miami is a hub for commercial shipping traffic as well as commercial aviation traffic. It’s a natural location [for training]. It’s kind of the centerline of the Americas.”
Both tourism and transportation benefit: Bellitto and others say that visitors to the training centers who stay about eight nights will generate an estimated 38,000 room-nights a year at local hotels after Boeing fully consolidates its North American training in South Florida, scheduled for completion by the year’s end.