NexGen Simulation is based in Prescott Arizona, the city with the cleanest air in America1, this is despite having multiple major flight schools here. In-fact our office and manufacturing facility is located adjacent to Prescott Municipal Airport - Ernest A. Love Field, so we have a vested interest in the environmental impact of flight training.
There's been a lot of discussion recently over the environmental impact of flying, some sources say it's better than driving2, others say it's much worse3. However no one can debate that the area surrounding a busy airport is subject the greater environmental stress4 due to the concentration of emissions in the area.
Flight schools by the vary nature of their operation are particularly emissions intensive. Now of course that's bad for the environment, but it also represents a lot of very expensive fuel being burnt; most of it within the direct vicinity of their home airport. Although flight simulators use electricity, which is generally produced from fossil fuel sources, it's hardly even comparable. At worst an hour in a flight simulator uses about 12% of the energy of flying5. If you consider the additional fuel consumption of frequent take offs, and that not everyone is flying a fuel sipping Cessna 172, the gap widens very quickly. Also, for economic reasons power plants are generally designed to be as efficient as possible, light aircraft engines on the other hand are generally designed with reliability and safety as a primary concerns.
Because a basic flight simulator may use as little as 800-1,5000W, powering one using solar panels isn't out of the question in much of the world. With available environmental subsidies in some areas not only does that reduce emissions to zero, or near-zero, it also reduces the cost of power to nearly zero.
With more and more countries implementing various forms of environmental taxes (carbon taxes) the pressure on flight fuel hungry schools is rising. For example in Sweden where the carbon tax is around $150 USD per ton the carbon tax alone on flying a typical aircraft for an hour can be higher than entire direct cost of operating a simulator for an hour.
Because of this flight simulation is incredibly attractive for aviation operations in jurisdictions with higher environmental taxes. Of course for operators in jurisdictions with no such taxes simulation is still an incredible cost saving tool, and has many other advantages.
Washinton Post: Surprising new study suggests that flying may be greener than driving Chris Mooney April 28, 2015 ↩
The National Bureau of Economic Research: Airports, Air Pollution, and Contemporaneous Health Wolfram Schlenker, W. Reed Walker December 2011 ↩
About 5,110 BTU vs. 432,553 BTU ↩