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Flight school spreads wings

A decision to relocate a commercial pilot training school to Gisborne raised eyebrows within the aviation industry initially. However, less than two years later Andrew Ashton finds out not only has the school successfully trained potential pilots for Vietnam’s national carrier, but the region’s produce has attracted interest from Vietnamese supermarkets.

Eagle Flight Training relocated from Ardmore in Auckland to Gisborne Airport in October 2017 and has already seen 11 successful trainee commercial airline pilots return to the Maldives and Vietnam. A host of others have taken their place, with the school hoping for government assistance to train more Kiwi pilots as well.

“At the moment, we have 17 students enrolled in the Commercial Pilot Licence training programme. Four further students, having obtained their CPL, have returned to Maldives and Vietnam this year,” says Eagle Flight Training development manager Brian Johns.

In addition, so far this year 51 students from Hong Kong have been processed for 10 to 20 flying hours, with the expectation to achieve a first solo flight.

“In 2018, we had seven graduated students. Five of them are VNA (Vietnam Airlines) cadets. All Vietnamese students often take the Vietnam airlines training programme.

“In early July 2019, we expect to have seven full-time students from Vietnam — all of them have lodged the application for a student visa. These are additional to the 17 already enrolled.”

Eagle Flight Training (EFT) specialises in training international students to an advanced level as a precursor to entry into the aviation industry.

The school provides flight and ground training from a basic private licence to a commercial licence, along with an Instrument Rating qualification and a Diploma in Aviation. Pilots are prepared, primarily, for Vietnam Airlines’ commercial pilot training programme.

Mr Johns said enrolments were mainly from Vietnam and Hong Kong.

“Enrolments from New Zealand are quite limited since we do not have access to any student loan programme. We are working with government agencies on rectifying this anomaly.

“Most long-term students are here to obtain a Private Pilot Licence (PPL), before carrying on to obtain a Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL) and Instrument Rating (IR). As in all walks of life, students learn at differing levels of competency but in general, from the commencement of a course to completion of the commercial pilot licence course takes 15 to 18 months.

“Since Eagle Flight Training shifted to Gisborne, students have enrolled for the full course (CPL) from Papua New Guinea, Maldives, Indonesia and Vietnam, with students from Hong Kong also coming to us, in many cases having been accepted by an airline as a pilot, for a short two to three-week refresher on our Diamond 20 and Diamond 40 aircraft.

“We have three Diamond 20 twin-seaters, one Diamond 40 four-seater, and a twin engine Comanche for a total of five. In addition we have a Redbird Simulator.”

Trainees conduct about 300 flight movements a month.

'Bringing benefits to the Gisborne region and its people'Mr Johns said the relationship between Gisborne and Vietnam was developing further economic ties as well.

“The relationship with Vietnam Airlines is very good and is managed from the Vietnam office.

“It is very beneficial for the growth of Eagle Flight Training, as VNA is recognising our success in training students, and has noted recent trends where students from Vietnam who were training at other New Zealand flight schools have left those companies to enrol with Eagle and seen their progress accelerated.

“This good performance is reflected in the fact that in July we have seven more students from Vietnam joining us to study for CPL.

“The main benefit of the relationship with VNA is that if a student leaves EFT with a good record, then that student is likely to be selected as a pilot by VNA.

“In the main, the students are well funded by parents and spend their money in Gisborne during their time here. Eagle Flight Training’s spend on fuel, maintenance, landing fees, wages and salaries is significant.

“There is no doubt that Gisborne is better known through the exposure to New Zealand aviation interests, as there was widespread ridicule within the industry about our move to Gisborne.

“Companies with whom we transact business, not only in Gisborne but around the North Island, are benefiting as a result of our purchases.

“A larger impact is in the visits that we are receiving from friends and family of our students.”

Last weekend eight members of two Vietnamese families visited to get a feel for Gisborne and Eagle’s operation here.

“Family of students and extended family are common visitors to the city,” said Mr Johns.

“Every student that comes to the school gets driven around the district on their induction into the company, and lots of photos head back to their partners and family.

“The owner of Eagle Flight School — a Gisborne-based Vietnamese businessman — recently invited the largest supermarket in Vietnam to spend a day in Gisborne getting a feel for the produce available. They were very impressed with what they saw.

“So yes, the word is getting out there as a result of us being in Gisborne.”

The company now employed eight staff in Gisborne, including a chief flight instructor and four instructors.

The flight school was eyeing steady growth.

Mr Johns said Gisborne, Eagle Flight Training and New Zealand aviation could also benefit from the new business park on Aerodrome Road, which was zoned for aviation businesses.

“I’m a firm believer, and actively promoted the concept of grouping like-minded business and industry. The more you gather like business around you, the better for the public and the business owners.

“I have also had similar experience in creating subdivisions in various areas of Auckland. You just need to research and then promote the concept at an appropriate time in the region’s economic growth.”

Mayor Meng Foon said it was a great honour to have the flight school in Gisborne, adding that the school’s presence had also resulted in bilateral business dealing between Gisborne and Vietnam.

“They have been expanding and providing pilot training for locals and overseas students. I have a very good working relationship with the owner.

“This is a great profile for Gisborne. Vietnam is a fast-growing economy and so far they have encouraged other Vietnamese business people to come to Gisborne.”

That included a Vietnamese solar business setting up here in partnership with Clarke Refrigeration.

“Having international investors here in Gisborne benefits the region and its people.”

Mr Foon said he was also hopeful that five spaces at the flight training school could in future be allocated to Gisborne students.

TRAINING PILOTS: Eagle Flight Training chief executive and head of training Graham Guy is pictured with student Le Anh Vu at the commercial pilot training school’s base at Gisborne Airport. Picture by Liam Clayton