Virgin America opens flight simulator in Bay Area


As two pilots prepare to take off from the center runway at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, it's hard to tell from the cockpit that they're actually sitting in a warehouse in Burlingame.

On the inside, it's a brand new Airbus A320 passenger jet. But on the outside, the aircraft is an entirely different animal -- not held up by wings, but by state-of-the-art hydraulics that are bolted to the floor of Virgin America's new training facility.

"It's a Level D simulator, so we can take a pilot who's never seen the aircraft before, train them in this airplane to basically go out and fly the aircraft," said Christopher Owens, the flight operations training manager.

Pilots can practice routine operations, but more importantly, they can prepare for the unexpected.

"You name it, we can do it in here: systems failures, electrical failures, hydraulic failures that you would never want to do in an actual airplane, obviously for safety reasons," said Owens.

The simulator is a nearly $12 million investment that's also an investment in the Bay Area's economy. As many as 10 pilots every day will come here to train, instead of flying to facilities in Florida or Texas where Virgin America had previously been renting other companies' flight simulators by the hour.

"This means a lot more hotel room nights, a lot more restaurants, a lot of taxi rides, in addition to just all the jobs that are created because of the training facility here," said Virgin America CEO David Cush.

Cush cut the ribbon on the new simulator, joined by Burlingame city leaders. Aside from being the only simulator of its kind on the West Coast, Cush says it's among the first anywhere to train pilots on RNP -- a navigation system designed to burn less fuel and make takeoffs and landings quieter -- something that's sure to be a hit with the neighbors.

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