"The geography is completely different both on the ground and in the air so having the specifics for each facility is like having the facility there," said Joe Santoro, an FAA simulator trainer for John Wayne Airport in Orange County.
Before the simulator, trainees would practice in real towers with little choice of what scenarios they would encounter. But with the simulator they can test out any possible situation, from small planes to burning planes, flocks of birds to flocks of skydivers. They can go from sunny skies to the dark of night and heavy rain.
"We could take those trainees in four weeks and do what would take about three plus months to do in the live environment," said Santoro. "We can pause a problem, we can replay a problem, we can repeat a problem - all these things we can't do with live traffic."
Sometime next year the FAA will program Burbank's Bob Hope Airport into the simulator as well.