This opinions express in this article are based on over four years evaluating the ProSimA320 avionics suite and receiving countless feedback from commercial and personal consumer users of the software.
When the avionics suite ProSimA320 was initially announced by ProSim-AR there was excitement within the commercial and enthusiast community. There were few other professional options available and ProSim-AR, (an experienced company well known for their B737 avionics simulation) was in a position to tackle the development and challenges of the A320.
ProSimA320 was launched on January 2nd, 2017 with impressive features – an easy to use configuration setup, hardware compatibility with most 3rd party vendor hardware, failures for procedural training, a feature rich Instructor Operating Station (IOS), an open API/SDK, and an accurate ECAM based on the ESLD (ECAM System Logic Data). The operational side told a different story – Systems and essential features were found to be incomplete, or incorrectly implemented and there was an abundance of issues with the flight dynamics.
Kejserens nye klæder (The Emperor’s New Clothes)
There was much debate that ProsimA320 was released pre-maturely. “It flies nothing like an Airbus,” was a common outcry by the community and real world pilots. At its price point there was some expectations for the avionics suite to be comprehensive and without any compromise. However this was further from the truth. Customers were frustrated with non-working features or inaccurate aircraft modelling such as wind shear scenario training, single engine taxi and one engine inoperative aircraft dynamics (some of these erroneous functions continue to persist today). Flight training centres were embarrassed when they couldn’t simulate scenarios requested by their clients and pilots. Discussions with simulator engineers at Ansett Aviation (Melbourne, Australia) also revealed that they had difficulty with the software and had “trouble getting it ready” for flight training purposes as “there’s still a lot of issues with it”.
One significant issue was basic flight dynamics and the ability for the aircraft to maintain 1G (an essential Airbus characteristic). ProSim-AR’s lead consultant and head of training is an ex-B737 pilot (with no real world Airbus operational experience) and reported at that time that “we haven’t found any reason to believe that it does not behave correctly. Our engineering simulator is running P3D v4.5, and we are using Airbus SOP’s in typical scenarios.” After much user outrage and videos demonstrating this behaviour, ProSim-AR finally released a fix for this issue in 2021 (four years after initial release).
Disappointingly, ProSim-AR does not employ a sound engineer. As a result, aircraft environmental or ambience audio (an important part of a cockpit simulation) is also not included in the avionics package. At the time of this writing a fully working VHF intercom (mandatory for MCC certification in some countries) has not yet been completely implemented. As a result, some training centres have attempted to bypass these limitations by using flightdeck audio and a hardware intercom solution from 3rd party providers.
A Cavalier Attitude
With all the outstanding issues it is not surprising why the company has been treated with criticism. Reports of broken aircraft systems and regression after an update are common complaints. Customers frequently report on these issues on the official online forum, but discourse is usually dealt with swiftly – posts are locked, edited or deleted and users may even be banned by the moderators. Users are able to submit bug reports to a tracker but they can be cancelled or ignored.
In an email correspondence Mr Hanne Koole (CEO, ProSim-AR) mentioned that “apart from the cockpit builders, we have over 300 commercial and professional installations, from all the input we’re getting it is only appropriate if we decide what is important for our customers and business.”
Despite the large number of licenses, the company remains small, only employing a handful of avionic programmers and one primary customer support team member. In addition to the A320 avionics, their few developers must also design, and maintain the company’s other suite of programs – the B737, B737-MAX, FMS trainer, IOS, Maintenance Trainer, Fenix A320 and the soon to be released A320-NEO versions. With such high demand workload it would be understandable why software development and customer support may be perceived to be slow. Sensibly, ProSim-AR should try and actively engage and communicate with the community to explain these circumstances and their developmental priorities instead of dismissing feedback or customer concerns.
The avionics software is not all doom and gloom. There are some features which make the software highly capable. Hardware configuration is a simple affair with the graphical user interface. Aircraft procedural failure training is available even in the non-commercial version. An open SDK is available and allows for flexible 3rd party interfacing. An Instructor Operating Station (FS-Flight Control) is included with the suite. The programs are not CPU intensive and are able to execute even on low-end computing machines.
ProSim-AR has made considerable effort to correct bugs in the last two years. The product has matured with additional features added every few months. One of its biggest feature is its compatibility with Microsoft Flight Simulator (2020) platform giving it a distinct advantage over its competitors. Long term support releases should theoretically bring stability to their product lines as they will only be released twice a year.
Nevertheless (commercial and non-commercial) users of the software should familiarise themselves with the software terms and conditions and understand that when you purchase ProSim-A320 you are only licensing its use. A perpetual subscription and fee agreement is required to keep the software up to date and current. If your subscription expires or lapses, and there is a version gap, you must pay additional fees to update to the latest release candidate or beta. It is unlikely users would forgo the subscription as they understand the software is dynamic in nature and must be constantly updated to fix outstanding software bugs.
Before making a purchase-decision, potential commercial institutions and personal users should think about the long term fixed costs and also consider the alternative avionics suites with a successful track record – Jeehell FMGS / Simnest (free for non-commercial use) is professionally certified (FNPT II-MCC) and installed in pilot academies and training centres around the world; Flight Sim Labs A320-X (Skalarki hardware compatible), likewise has also been utilised in fixed based simulators for entertainment and procedural training. There is also the upcoming Flight Factor A320 Ultimate Professional (X-plane 12) and A320 Simulator, both which are in active development and together with the other avionic suites provides a variety of options for the end user now, and in the foreseeable future. These solutions fill some of the gaps discussed, but most importantly they are from developers who are customer-centric, and have a superior value proposition.