I spent last Friday at the mall. Well, not just any mall, the Eastern Shore Centre, an upscale mall in Spanish Fort, Alabama, that is a half hour from the airport where Continental Motors has its Fairhope, Alabama, plant.
I didn’t spend my time at Cinnabon. I hung out at Zulu, a simulator-based experimental flight training center run by Continental Motors utilizing Redbird flight simulators. The new training center’s location away from an airport is precisely the point. Prospective pilots or those looking to tack on an instrument rating, for instance, can go to the store instead of the airport. And people wandering by might just stop by for a quick look, a demo and a chat with an instructor. Who knows? Maybe that’s the way the aviation industry finds new pilots.
It might seem a little odd that a simulator training center is being run by Continental Motors, a company that’s better known for crossflow heads than for private pilot syllabi, but there’s method here. Continental’s new owner, China’s AVIC aviation consortium, knows that training is key to expanding the aviation world in China, and Zulu is designed to do things in a way that works in China, a place with lots of downtown areas and very few GA airports. By doing a lot of the training work at the storefront instead of the airport, you make it easier for students to get the training and to make the most of the training once they go to the airport and the airplane to fly.
Continental Motors President Rhett Ross said that Zulu is a way to take an activity that is “expensive and can be intimidating” and take it to the people, instead of making the people come to us. Bill Reed, Continental’s CFO and a student pilot himself, said that the company hopes to take the model and “expand it across the country and around the world.”
If Zulu is successful, the next step is building more centers in more locations away from airports around the world. If that happens and the people come to see what the buzz is, there’s no telling how many new faces we might see in aviation.