The instructors from the FlightSafety International Academy at Vero Beach, Florida, obvious in their crisp epauleted uniforms, fanned out through the Orlando Convention Center exhibit hall during the National Business Aviation Association meeting. They were bright eyed and enthusiastic, particularly considering their early, pre-dawn wheels-up departure for the bus trip from their Vero Beach campus.
For many of the instructors-who were planning on professional pilot careers-the visit to the NBAA hall was their first brush with business aviation and the career advantages it offers. Although they complained they didn't have enough time to peruse the exhibits, the instructors were obviously impressed with the alternative that a corporate aviation career offered to flying for an airline. Advantages they cited included the opportunity, in most cases, to fly brand-new airplanes with the latest in avionics, the variety of destinations, the chance to be directly and intimately involved with the country's movers and shakers and the ability to help them to do their moving and shaking.
The instructors, most of whom are themselves graduates of the Academy, are each responsible for training three to four students. A total of slightly fewer than 100 instructors is employed to teach the 300 or so students currently enrolled at the Academy. Of the 300 students, about 10 to 15 percent are women, and about 10 percent of the instructors are women.
A new class of students enters the Academy each month. When students first arrive, they go through a four-week private pilot ground school course as a group. Students who already have their private license are allowed to audit a two-week private pilot review class that ensures they meet the school's standards. Typically, during the second week of the ground school each of the students is assigned an instructor who will reinforce the ground school training and with whom they'll do all their flight training while at the academy.
The majority of the students have already completed their four-year college degree before they arrive at FlightSafety. Those with two-year degrees are encouraged to complete their college coursework, so even if an airline doesn't require a four-year degree, they'll have something to fall back on if for some reason their dream of becoming a professional pilot comes a cropper. One method that's recommended is through Embry Riddle Aeronautical University's distance learning program.
About half the academy students come to FlightSafety in order to make a change in their professional careers. The decision to change careers is apparently being fostered by lifelong dreams and encouraged by the number of the current airline pilots who will retire in the next several years and the low interest rates for loans to fund training. A recent class included students who had been flight attendants, divorce lawyers, pharmacists, teachers, computer programmers, website designers, paramedics and flight nurses. The median age of students attending the Academy is between 26 and 27 years old. Approximately one-third of the students are married, and some come to Florida with their children. During a recent visit, there were two married couples in which both partners were taking training.
The basic course includes a total of 55 hours of multiengine time in the Piper Seminole, 26 hours of crew resource management training, four hours of disorientation training, four hours of upset recovery training, 44 hours of dual in the Piper Cadet, 61 hours of solo practice in the Cadet and 176 hours of classroom work. The professional pilot program results in the students achieving their private, multiengine, multiengine commercial and multiengine instrument ratings. If they elect to take the two-month certified flight instructor course, they add the commercial single-engine rating and their CFI. About 75 percent of the students opt to go on for their CFI.
Once they've earned their CFI, students can apply to become instructors at FlightSafety. Interviews for new instructors are held every month. Prospective instructors are given a topic to present to the interviewing committee. Typically the topic is a commercial maneuver, and they're required to give a 15-minute presentation complete with visual aids if they choose. If the presentation goes well, the instructors are given five free hours in a Frasca 142 simulator to prepare for a simulator evaluation.
Instructors are paid $14 per hour for flight and ground time and get full benefits. After they're hired, the CFIs get their instrument instructor rating. Then, after teaching 200 hours of dual in single-engine airplanes, they go through the multiengine standardization program. In the past, FlightSafety's enrollments were at a sufficiently high level that instructors who had not gone through the Academy program were able to apply to become instructors. Now FlightSafety wants to reserve the instructing opportunities for its own graduates, so it isn't encouraging applications from non-FlightSafety-trained instructors.
Instructors log an impressive amount of multiengine time. Since all the Academy pilots are given 55 hours of multiengine training, it's not unusual for 45 to 50 percent of an instructor's total time to be in multiengine airplanes.
Instructors are asked to stay at FlightSafety until they've given 800 hours of dual (which pays for the expense of providing them their multiengine instructor and their instrument instructor ratings). After that, they're free to pursue another career, say as an airline or corporate pilot, or they can choose to stay at FSI as instructors.
The FlightSafety Academy fleet of 100 airplanes includes Piper Seminoles (26); Cadets (47); Arrows (13); Senecas (11) and Zlin 242s (3). The fleet averages about 7,500 flight hours per month; in some months it's logged more than 10,000 hours. The school performs all its own aircraft maintenance on a progressive program in which the airplanes are inspected every 60 hours rather than at the FAA required 100-hour interval. In addition to the airplanes, the Academy's training devices include a GAT II spatial disorientation trainer, six Frasca 142 flight training devices (FTDs); one Frasca 242 FTD; a Seneca FTD; and simulators for the Cessna Citation, Beech King Air and Saab 2000.
The school maintains dorms on the Vero Beach campus. The costs range from $13 per night for dual occupancy up to $25 per night for single occupancy. Some of the apartments have kitchens, and a cafeteria is open Monday through Friday. Students typically stay in the dorms when they first arrive and then, after they've gotten familiar with their schedule and with the community, they rent an apartment.
Applicants are required to submit proof of at least a high school diploma; a five-year driving record; a Class One medical; a copy of a U.S. passport if they possess one; a certified copy of their birth certificate; and a copy of their driver's license. Acceptance is not automatic. Applicants are not accepted if they have a DUI within the prior two years, more than three moving traffic convictions in the past two years or a felony conviction. Enrolled students convicted of a DUI are asked to leave.
The total cost for the ab initio course is $44,059. There are nine payments, one due every 30 days during the 34-week program. Students pay a $1,000 deposit and a $100 application fee, which are credited to their account when they attend. Everything except headsets and living arrangements is supplied, including books, check rides and uniforms. Students with prior flight experience are eligible for credit, which reduces both training time and cost. Credit for prior flying experience, following a five-hour dual flight and a three-hour briefing for preflight and evaluation, is determined on an individual basis.
For financial assistance, FlightSafety has made arrangements with the Education Credit Corporation (ECC) to help students secure the money they need to pay for their flight training. Through ECC, students can access all of the lending programs approved by the Academy, including federal and private education loans.
To find out more about the FlightSafety Academy, plan a visit to the Vero Beach campus ("If they come here, they'll train here!"), or call 800/800-1411 or 772/564-7650 or log on to the Academy's updated website: www.flightsafetyacademy.com.