REACH FOR THE SKIES: More than 120 Chinese students will call Mildura home this year as they train to become pilots at the new International Flight Training Academy which has been established at Mildura Airport by Pearson Aviation. Pictured is Pearson Aviation CEO, Guy Pearson. Photo: PAUL MENSCH

By JOHN DOOLEY

AFTER three years of negotiations and dedicated planning, the International Flight Training Academy at Mildura Airport was launched in Pearson Aviation’s Hangar 61 yesterday.

It was a launch met with great excitement and enthusiasm from the attending aviation community, airport management, local politicians and invited guests.

The academy will commence operations tomorrow, and will be the largest of its kind in Australia. It has been established to help address a substantial global shortage of pilots and will provide a significant economic boost to the Sunraysia region.

The first 30 Chinese students will arrive in Mildura today to take up their academy positions.

The opening of a pilot training academy in Mildura has the potential to inject more than $14million into the local economy, with more than 120 students to be initially enrolled at the school, and there will be flow-on employment opportunities created. 

The planned growth during the next three years will see this number increase substantially. 

Pearson Aviation is the driving force behind the international pilot school, and the company has been working for some time toward establishing the operation in conjunction with Mildura Airport and local entities.

The company’s CEO, Guy Pearson, said that the academy was the culmination of almost three years work.

“Getting the various approvals in place, not least of which was obtaining the approval of the Chinese Government to offer this training, has been a lengthy process,” he said. “In order for the cadets that we will be training for the Chinese airlines to go back to China and be employed by the airline, they must meet a very high standard.

“We had to meet strict and rigorous requirements, not only from our own authority, the Civil Aviation Authority (CASA), but also from the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC). 

“We are very proud of the fact that we have got those approvals in place, and we anticipate extending the student numbers progressively throughout this year to about 120, and by the end of 2020 possibly around 600 students will be here in Mildura.”

Comprehensive training program

Mr Pearson said that the training course is a comprehensive program that will involve practical flying, simulator training and classroom tutorials.

“It’s a 66-week course, although we do have some leeway built into that to extend the course if necessary,” he said. “We have two simulators here at Mildura Airport, and currently we have a fleet of 14 aircraft.

“That number will be extended by the end of this year as we take delivery of another 45 Cessna 172 S aircraft. It’s a big investment, a Cessna 172  S retails for around $550,000.

“We are delivering what we call an integrated course, and so the flying-training is closely integrated with the ground-theory, which is a requirement of both CASA and the CAAC in China. 

“The students will start out with a certain amount of ground-theory – learning the basics about aerodynamics and aircraft systems, they do that for a few days and then they start flying in earnest.”

Mr Pearson said that the students will fly for three to fours weeks solid, by which time they will attain first-solo status.

“At that point, the instructor will get out of the aeroplane and send them into the air on their own,” he said. “There will be more blocks of theory as they progress towards their commercial licence, and then ultimately toward their instrument rating and multi-engine class rating.

“We prepare the students to go back to their airline employer in China, and they will then do their simulator training which will be type specific – it could be a Boeing 737, or an A-320 or A-330 and the airline will then train them in their own simulators.

“The cadet pilots are chosen by the airlines in China and we have a representative from our school who goes over to China and we will carry out a selection process on the cadets that are presented to us to select from.”

The students will be accommodated at the Mildura Inlander Resort, and over time, there will be an increase in the accommodation capability, which may even include the addition of accommodation at Mildura Airport itself.

Following the recent announcement that Wentworth Aerodrome will be upgraded in the next 18 months, speculation that the International Pilot Training Academy could utilise the improved facilities over the river was confirmed by Mr Pearson.

“We are intending to utilise Wentworth Airport as a satellite airfield. We would depart our students from Mildura, fly out to Wentworth, use Wentworth for the day and then return to Mildura,” he said.  

New academy a ‘wonderful outcome’

Mildura Airport chair, Peter O’Donnell, said securing the academy was a wonderful outcome. 

“We are very happy to have the academy set up in Mildura. It is a testament to the work that has been done at the Mildura Airport over many years,” he said.

“The academy had many options, but chose Mildura ahead of sites in NSW, WA and Queensland because we have the physical and operations structure that they require.

“We have enjoyed working with the academy to this point, and look forward to a long relationship with them as they become part of the airport and Mildura community.” 

Mildura Mayor Simon Clemence also welcomed the opening of the academy.

“The Mildura Airport is already one of our region’s most important assets, and with this fantastic initiative will provide even more benefits in terms of economic, tourism and employment opportunities,” he said. 

“I’d like to welcome the first group of students to our municipality and wish them the very best of luck with their training.”

Member for Mildura Ali Cupper echoed Mr Clemence’s remarks, saying that it’s very exciting to see this ambitious plan coming to fruition. 

“Not only will our flight industry benefit, there will be many positives for the boarder community which is what makes the academy such a welcome development,” she said.

Also lending his support, Member for Mallee Andrew Broad said Mildura has a long history with pilot training. 

“Being an aviator myself, I can see the natural advantages of a flying school to be based here. In many years to come, pilots around the world will remember that their first solo flight was at Mildura Airport,” he said.