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Emirates expands options for high-flying gamers

Lukas Podolski of Arsenal in the Emirates' A380 flight simulator on October 31, 2013 in Greenwich, England.
Stuart MacFarlane | Arsenal FC | Getty Images
Lukas Podolski of Arsenal in the Emirates' A380 flight simulator on October 31, 2013 in Greenwich, England.

The world's largest shopping mall is the latest location to add a super high-tech amenity that should make even the most sophisticated gamer eager for a seat at the controls.

Earlier this month Emirates Airline, the world's largest operator of A380s—they currently have 47—installed an A380 flight simulator at the Dubai Mall, offering aspiring pilots "flights" to any of a dozen major airports around the world in weather conditions of their choosing.

It's the latest location to offer amateurs the chance to pilot the world's largest passenger plane without the usual risks or training requirements.

Emirates Airlines Flight Simulator at Dubai mall
Source: Emirates Airlines
Emirates Airlines Flight Simulator at Dubai mall

The Dubai Mall, (billed as the world's largest, by total area,) is located in the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest tower. Its new simulator offers 30-minute flying sessions, which come with a flight instructor and price tag of about $95.

No pilot licenses are awarded, "but we score each visitor on his or her speed, accuracy and landing" and post the highest scores online, said Emirates spokeswoman Iris Dias.

In London, Emirates also offers two A380 flight simulators, as well as simulators for two Boeing 777s. Its Aviation Experience center there offers 30 minute flight sessions for about about $75, plus the $5 general admission ticket for the aviation displays and aircraft models.

Many museums and attractions, including the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. and the Museum of Flight in Seattle, offer a variety of flight simulator rides at rates that range from free to less than $20.

"The operative word here is ride," said Bruce Williams, a Seattle-based flight instructor and aviation consultant. "The person along for the ride usually isn't in full control. The machine tilts and bumps to give the illusion of flight, but the experience is designed to let you feel accelerations, tilt, and yaw."

Another company, iPilot offers fixed-based (non-motion) simulator experiences in shopping malls and airports in London, Munich, Berlin, Dresden, Hamburg, Düsseldorf, Prague, Doha, Dubai, Basel and Zurich at prices that range from about $100 (for 15 minutes) to more than $400 for 90 minutes.

"Our device is an actual training simulator used by real world pilots," said Jason Pereira, assistant manager/senior flight instructor at iPilot Dubai, "and you are accompanied by a certified pilot who will be your instructor throughout the flight."

British Airways and Lufthansa are among the airlines that offer the public a chance to experience the same multi-million dollar, full-motion aviation training devices used to train their professional pilots. The price tag for these experiences ranges from about $650 to over $800 for a one-hour session.

Flyanairliner also offers access to the aviation training devices used by commercial airlines at Amsterdam Schiphol and Paris Charles de Gaulle airports. (A location near Miami International Airport is scheduled to open in mid-May.)

These are not "living-room simulators," said company co-founder Lila de la Chesnaye. "These simulators have crisp visuals, 6-axis motion system, authentic cockpits and surround-sound and make for an immersive experience that is as close to flying an airliner as one can get without becoming a pilot."

Prices range from about $750 to over $4,000 for sessions that can be from one to four hours, but "thrill seekers and layman alike not only love the uber-realistic accelerations, ascents and descents," said de la Chesnaye. "They also love knowing they are training on the same equipment as are commercial airline pilots."

—By Harriet Baskas, special to CNBC.com. Baskas is the author of seven books, including "Hidden Treasures: What Museums Can't or Won't Show You," and the Stuck at the Airport blog. Follow her on Twitter at @hbaskas. Follow Road Warrior at @CNBCtravel.

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