California Flight School Shutdown Leaves Dozens of International Students Without Options

Students might soon be evicted from their living quarters.

The shutdown of Mazzei Flying Service in California has left its frustrated students wondering what happened to their tuition.Winstar Aviation

The bankruptcy filing of flight training company Mazzei Flying Service at Fresno’s Yosemite International Airport at the end of March halted nearly all of the Part 141 school’s flight training activities. The shutdown affected about 60 fledgling pilots particularly hard — most of them Taiwanese students— because they’d paid for the entirety of their professional pilot training in advance, a Mazzei requirement. All had hoped for a professional pilot career back in Asia at the completion of their training.

With students at various points in their education, one source pegged the amount owed the now-grounded students at roughly $800,000. Adding to former Mazzei students’ woes about their future training options are concerns about their living arrangements, since their advance payments were intended to cover the rent on their apartments. One former Mazzei student, who asked not to be identified, confirmed most students’ rent was paid through April 15, but had no idea what would happen past that date. He reported that as late as the week prior to the shutdown, some students were asked to provide additional cash payments to Mazzei to continue flying.

Nearly two weeks after the shutdown, no official reason for the closing has surfaced. The Fresno Bee reported Mazzei president Mark Addis explaining, "As of today (March 31), as of this point, we are ceasing full-time flight training operations. We're not closing right now, but we are just stopping flight training operations so we can reevaluate where we're at." Addis, who took control of Mazzei in 2015, did not respond to Flying's phone or e-mail requests for comment.

The former Mazzei student who arrived last summer explained the deteriorating atmosphere at the school, claiming that through the end of 2016 he’d managed to log just 40 flying hours despite being ready to fly every day. He said he and other international students facing similar concerns brought the problem to Mazzei management’s attention, but to no avail. He claimed a fellow student had logged only four hours of flight time in recent months and that the school was plagued with a shortage of flight instructors and an ancient fleet of aircraft.

Many international students apparently chose Mazzei originally for their professional flight training because of the school’s solid reputation overseas, a standing dating back to World War II, not to mention the school’s link to China Airlines years ago. The formal link with the airlines had been severed prior to Mazzei’s shutdown.

Although acceptance to a U.S. school is required to earn a student visa, payment in full is not required. While demanding full payment in advance is not illegal, the practice can be problematic, depriving students of their leverage with the school to resolve disputes.

Of surprise to some Taiwanese students was learning that a small contingent of their comrades were allowed to continue flying after the shutdown, although they were required to pay for fuel. The student Flying spoke to said no one was certain why some students were allowed to continue flying while others remained grounded.

“Those students who are flying,” this student said, “they won’t even speak to the rest of us now. There was one female Mazzei CFI graduate from Taiwan who worked as the company’s intermediary with international students,” he added. “She’s not helping anyone either.”

While the exact reason for the Mazzei shutdown remains a mystery, the closing is reminiscent of other California flight school closures that left students penniless. Silver State Helicopters shut down in 2008 after many of that company’s students had deposited as much as $70,000 in advance to cover the cost of their flight training. The closure left as many as 2,500 students, spread out across 34 training locations around the country, with no training possibilities and millions of dollars of debt. Lawsuits are still pending against now-defunct Silver State.

The American School of Aviation in Atwater, California, also closed in 2008, leaving nearly 100 flight students who paid for their entire flight training programs in advance with no options. Students were eventually evicted from their apartments after learning the school had not paid their rent with the funds that had been deposited for that purpose. Legal action to sue the owner of the American School stalled when the former owner could not be located.

The student Flying interviewed said he was frustrated and very disappointed by the entire Mazzei shutdown experience.

“Something went wrong at Mazzei, but we still don’t know what,” he said. “We trusted the school’s owner. We also trusted the Taiwanese CFI they had working for them.”