Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Aerosim Flight Academy

The professional flight-training difference

It's not only general aviation that faces a pilot shortage. With an estimated 30,000 commercial pilots reaching retirement age in the next 10 years, and aircraft orders from Boeing and Airbus alone requiring as many as 18,000 pilots a year for the next decade to crew them, according to the companies, airlines are scrambling to find the first officers and captains of tomorrow.

If history is any indication, hundreds of these pilots will come from Aerosim Flight Academy. It was founded as Comair in 1989 and rechristened the Delta Connection Academy after the airline purchased the school in 2003. The school's name was changed again after Aerosim, a Minnesota-based manufacturer of flight-training systems, bought the company in 2009. Plane & Pilot was invited to Aerosim's main campus at Sanford International Airport (KSFB) in Orlando, Fla., to see the operation firsthand. (A branch campus is located on Houston's Ellington Field Airport—KEFD.)

Aerosim Training
Operations at the high-traffic airport, which handles international flights from Europe, is in Class C airspace under Orlando's Class B veil, immersing students in the busy and dynamic airline environment they're training for. Taxiing toward Avion FBO after arrival, some of Aerosim's training fleet, which includes 32 single-engine Cirrus SR20s and 12 twin-engine Piper Seminoles along with a few Cessna 172s and Piper Arrows, were visible on the ramp. Most were out flying.

Everything about Aerosim's training is designed to replicate "how the airlines operate," said Mike Campbell, Director of Academic Affairs, as he explained the program in his office. "The checklists we use, the way students flight-plan and do paperwork for every flight, the way the aircraft are dispatched." Added Tom Mendenhall, Sr. Admissions Officer, "We treat brand-new students like it's Day One of their airline careers."

Aerosim isn't to be confused with institutions like Embry-Riddle, which provide a four-year college-degree program for a variety of aviation careers. Aerosim is focused solely on producing professional pilots, and instead of diplomas, students earn a slew of pilot certificates. Most of the 300 students are enrolled in the Professional Pilot Program, which includes private pilot certificate, instrument rating, commercial multi-engine certificate, commercial single-engine add-on rating and certified flight instructor. Requiring about nine months to a year to complete, it includes more than 170 hours of flight and simulator time, as well as classes, briefings, lab work and FAA written and practical tests. (Aerosim uses Part 141 Train To Proficiency standards, an exemption to 141 regulations that allows Aerosim students to complete a commercial certificate in 125 hours.)

Aerosim gives some graduates their first jobs as pilots—the academy's 100 flight instructors are all grads. Most instruct for 10 months to a year, flying about 800 hours, and then move on to a job with a regional airline.

"Literally, from the time someone sits down in the classroom on his first day, within 24 months most of them could be flying right seat of a CRJ (Canadair Regional Jet)," Campbell explained about the fast-paced career track.

The school's SR20s are all equipped with Avidyne glass panels, making grads attractive to regional carriers, Campbell said. "A lot of airlines like the fact that when graduates leave here, there's no transition needed from steam gauges to glass. If someone can fly the Cirrus, the transition into a CRJ is pretty simple. Once you get into an FMS (Flight Management System) on a CRJ, it's the same entering of waypoints and coordinates the students are used to." The Seminoles have steam gauges, ensuring that students are well versed in both legacy and contemporary panels.


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