"Ni ho mah?" as they say in Spain ... well, they do at Top Fly flight training school in Jerez, where the traditional Mandarin greeting meaning "How are you?" hails the arrival of more than 140 Chinese students training for their ATPLS.
Managers Jordi Mateu and Isaac Blanquez told me how this extraordinary story came about. "The contract started with 40 students from Air China and 42 from China Eastern," said Jordi. "Our school has China Civil Aviation Authority (C.A.A.C.) as well as the European Joint Aviation Authorities (J.A.A.) approval ... It was a tough negotiation and we are now on our third running contract." Top Fly won that contract by linking the need C.A.A.C. had to outsource its resources to train pilots; China is desperately short of pilots. According to Jordi, the main difficulty was the mountains of paperwork Top Fly had to wade through to get the contract sorted.
There are now 120 Chinese students coming through the doors every year in two different airports in two different intakes. With another 40 Spanish students on its books, Top Fly is training some 160 airline pilots per annum. Not bad for a school that was only a third of its current size a year ago. Isaac said that the school has not borrowed money or attracted outside investors. It will shortly take on 40 helicopter cadets from China, making it the first school in Spain to offer professional helicopter pilot training. Top Fly has had to expand its staff and premises to keep up with demand. The company outsources some instructional training, choosing training captains from airlines, which helps its students to get a feel for real working life.
Just in case that was not enough work, the school has taken on two large passenger aircraft and offers medevac and charter services. "We have done a lot in lots of very small steps. We now have 100 staff working between the airline and the flying school ... Three hundred percent growth has been quite tough in one year," laughed Isaac, who's obviously managing to keep smiling despite the obvious hard slog he and the rest of the team are going through.
Top Fly now has a fleet of 38 aircraft dedicated to flight training, eight simulators, 30 flight instructors, 22 ground-school instructors and 13 classrooms kitted out with modern training goodies. Their facility at Huesca-Pyrenees Airport, only a few kilometers from the capital, has 5,000 square meters of space. There is a modern passenger terminal, an apron big enough to park six medium sized aircraft and a tarmac runway measuring 45 m x 2,100 m. With 3,000 square meters of premises at Sabadell Airport, Top Fly has 10 classrooms and a fully equipped operations center. The company uses this facility for its maintenance. Sabadell Airport deals with general air traffic and has an illuminated 900 m x 30 m runway with a PAPI system.
As you know, over here we love to get in our planes and head over to the U.S. And it's taken a resourceful American firm to spot that we're doing it in an inefficient manner. So inefficient that we don't even have data to compare prices when we're looking at the true costs of crossing the pond. Our normal practice on the great circle route to the West Coast of America is to stop off at Bangor or Gander for fuel and customs and then continue west across North America. Monaco Air Duluth (DLH) has worked out that operators can shave several hundred miles and about one hour off their times (or $3,000-$4,000) by taking their tech stops at its facility. How so? DLH's Bill Coleman has invested time and energy into finding out the facts. On a round trip from London's Luton to Las Vegas, a Gulfstream G-IV SP stop at Duluth adds only 100 nm and 15 minutes to the direct route, as opposed to adding 587 nm and 1 hour and 20 minutes when going via Bangor. This is partly because technical stops at Duluth often take less than 24 minutes compared to Bangor, which often run more than 40 minutes. The facility is smaller and customs officers are often able to board the aircraft, rather than deplaning passengers. Monaco has put its money where its mouth is and created route comparison software that exactly tracks the Great Circle lines
With a total of 42 line and CSR personnel, Jet A storage of 100,000 gallons and fuel-truck handling capacity of 74,000 gallons of jet fuel, Monaco's FBO is capable of handling international business aircraft on tech stops. DLH has a 10,000-ft. runway and CAT II ILS and can handle heavy iron. "Planes coming from Europe to the Western U.S. or vice versa need to refuel and efficiently clear customs," explained Mike Magni, president of Monaco Air. "We're not as congested as other traditionally used tech stops for operators coming from Europe and we can process people and aircraft efficiently."
Owner Don Monaco has invested more than $1.5 million into the FBO since he bought it in 2005. He remodeled the passenger and crew lounges and executive office spaces, and purchased equipment including a state-of-the-art de-icer, fuel trucks, passenger shuttle and self-serve fueling station for piston aircraft. He also reduced fuel prices. Monaco's retail prices have consistently remained between $3.50 and $4.35. As an additional incentive, pilots landing there to refuel will receive a $100 American Express gift voucher until the end of October 2007. I'll check in with you about take-up from Europe later this year.
Despite the fact the Paris Air Show absolutely killed me, it did yield some goodies. For example, ALMS, the French manufacturer, unveiled the prototype of a new version of its Jodel D20 at the Paris Air Show. It has replaced the tricycle configuration with a new tailwheel variant and fit into the ultralight category. It retains its famous cranked wing and comes with a variety of engine options, including an 80-hp Rotax 912, a Jaibaru 2200, and a 100-hp Rotax 912-ULS.
One of our premier manufacturers, Diamond Aircraft Industries is promising you North Americans a treat. The company will show off its new DA50 "Super Star" in the U.S. at the Oshkosh Airventure Fly-in. CEO Christian Dries is convinced the aircraft will be an instant hit and has planned an accelerated certification schedule with production promised in January 2008. The single-engine aircraft first appeared at Aero 2007 exhibition in Friedrichshafen in April this year.
Europe's largest flight training school, Britain's Oxford Aviation Training (O.A.T.)) has been acquired by GCAT Flight Academy for $63 million. O.A.T. is currently the biggest ab initio airline pilot training school in Europe, with over 270 pilots starting its courses per year. (Though Top Fly looks set to give it a run for its money soon.). The merger adds GCATs type-rating programs to the ATPLs already in place.
The U.K. CAA has announced that it will be relaxing many areas of prohibited and restricted airspace in Northern Ireland beginning Aug. 1. This forms part of the military "normalization" program in the province. Many of the restrictions were put in place during more turbulent times in the 1970s. Relevant laws, AIP entries, and charts will be updated in due course.
Gentle reader, I owe you an apology. I did not get my act together this time to interview one of European AOPA's great and good. My goal is to have a "meet the players" section each month, and I will remedy this next month.
In compensation, I'll tell you something about AOPA in Cyprus, which is a thriving community of 55 souls dedicated to keeping private flying alive and well in their country. Formed in 1994, AOPA-Cyprus holds regular club meetings, seminars, and clinics on air safety issues. A key role, as with all regional AOPA groups, is to promote the interests of members at government levels. The group works hard to increase general aviation awareness in their country.
There's a champion team at the top and last month Vice President Demetrakis Hatzidemetriou and Secretary General Ioannis Papaiacovou put the Cypriot cause forward at the 116th Regional IAOPA meeting. The 117th IAOPA Regional Meeting will be held in Cyprus on Sept 21 - 23, 2007. More on their work at a future date, I promise.
Incidentally, should you have the urge to visit the AOPA Cyprus Web site, you'll see it offers a link to the Cyprus Airsports Federation (C.A.F.), the umbrella organization for all air sports in the Republic of Cyprus. C.A.F. it is the place to go if you fancy trying air sports in the country. So if you are up for a trip to Cyprus taking in some cost effective aerial fun, look up C.A.F.
Major celebrities are drawn to the Paris Air Show and, whilst other journalists made a beeline for John Travolta sunning himself on the static, I thought of you, dear reader, and headed to meet an even bigger star: Brandenburg, the Greatest Dane of all.
Taking a break from his usual work of visiting children with cancer, five-year-old Brandenburg did a round-the-world tour in a Cessna Citation Mustang to check out the aircraft's handling qualities. His spokesman and co-pilot, Fred Furth, a Californian wine producer, said, "Brandenburg loves the Mustang. It's a very stable aircraft." Furth is acting as pilot in command for the trip. As one of the first Mustang owners, Furth has a great deal of experience on the VLJ. He tells us, "At 100+ hours, I probably have more time in the Mustang than anybody other than Cessna pilots. It is very easy to fly and to land. Even with full fuel, at the right temperature and altitude it takes off like a rocket. Because it flies higher than 41,000 feet it tends not to experience too much turbulence." Although Brandenburg remained tight-lipped on the topic, sources say European air traffic controllers had some difficulty understanding his radio calls. The pair visited the show before resuming their epic journey.
As ever, if you have anything you'd like me to cover from this region of the world, don't hesitate to ask. Have a great month!
For more aviation news and information from Europe, read the rest Liz Moscrop's columns.