Asia's airlines are increasingly sending their pilots to Australia for training, lured by an excellent climate, wide open spaces and internationally recognised qualifications
Business is booming for flight training providers in Australia that have a foot in the Asian market. Thanks to good weather almost year-round, the right airspace environment for training and varied landscape, the country offers an ideal location for flight training. Many of Asia's airlines have been drawn to Australia for these reasons and, as a result, a number of providers in Australia are planning expansions of their facilities and capabilities.
One such company is Flight Training Adelaide (FTA). The Parafield airport, South Australia-based company is the former BAE Systems Flight Training Australia and it is now owned by Flight Training Group (FTG), a subsidiary of Hong Kong-based Young Brothers Aviation. "The majority of our business is from Asia and that has historically been the case," says Keith Morgan, chief executive of FTG, citing the geographical position of Australia and licensing issues among the list of reasons for making the location attractive to Asian carriers.
Past and current clients of FTA include Cathay Pacific, China Airlines, Dragonair, Emirates, JAL Express, Qantas and Vietnam Airlines. FTA has a fleet of seven Beech B76 Duchesses, seven Diamond DA-42s, 10 Grob 115s and 20 Socata TB10s, along with two DA-42 simulators. Today the school has 233 students, compared with 107 three years ago, says Morgan. "The college is now full and we're full for all of next year as well," he says.
As a result, the company is planning to establish a duplicate training school in Queensland to be located in Maryborough, north of Brisbane, with further operations out of Hervey Bay. The company hopes to start work on the site in the third quarter of 2008. The Queensland school will operate a further seven DA-42s, but a decision on a single-engined trainer - from either Diamond or Cirrus - is likely to be taken by the end of the year.
Morgan says the plan is to pull the Adelaide operation back to 200 students and grow the Queensland operation to the same level. As it has been turning away customers from Adelaide, Morgan does not think this will be a problem. It will also allow the company to pursue opportunities in the booming Indian and Chinese markets.
The company is investing A$20 million ($16 million) in construction costs alone for the new facility, believing that the time is right for expansion. The Asian currency crisis and the SARS virus "dulled the training business for a decade or so", which means there is now a latent demand for increased training, coupled with baby boomer retirements and the large number of aircraft Asian carriers have on order. If in another five years both schools are full to capacity then the company would consider further expansion, Morgan says.
Airlines in the region have also recognised the opportunities and are pursuing them. Qantas announced in late June that it was establishing a new standalone flight-training business that would train its own pilots and pursue third-party work. The business is being built around Qantas's existing flight- training operation, which is primarily in Sydney and Melbourne, with satellite centres in Brisbane, London, UK and New Zealand.
Qantas is in discussions with potential partners - simulator manufacturers, training organisations and financial companies - to expand the business. "We are exploring a number of partnership opportunities in Australia and Asia. We have an exciting opportunity to take the Qantas brand beyond the boundaries of Australia, to take it into Asia," says Capt David Coates, who is group general manager of the new business.
Coates says Qantas is "some way off" naming partners as it has been "inundated with opportunities to partner and we need to consider this carefully". The company is looking at a "matrix of alliances and partnerships in different countries" that is likely to be finalised in 2008, he says.
In the last two years Qantas's third-party training has grown by 600% and accounted for 15% of revenues last year, but the new business expects to expand this rapidly, says Coates. Qantas has previously concentrated on providing third-party training for the Boeing 737, but will extend that to its core fleet. The airline has provided training to more than 30 airlines in the region, with Japan a developing market and India and China offering great potential, he says. At the same time, however, it does not plan to neglect the south-west Pacific market, which has been a good one for Qantas, providing training to carriers including Air New Guinea, Air New Zealand, Air Pacific and Air Vanuati.
THIRD PARTY TRAINING
Singapore Airlines' Australian flying school is also looking at expanding its third-party training with the limited additional capacity available after it meets its own needs. Singapore Flying College has been operating in Australia since the early 1990s, attracted by Australia's weather, wide open spaces and support from state governments, says Capt Leonard McCully, deputy general manager. The airline has two facilities - at Perth's Jandakot airport in Western Australia and Maroochydore on Queensland's Sunshine Coast. The airline has five Beech Barons and 21 Cessna 172s at Jandakot, plus two Frasca simulators, and four Bombardier Learjet 45s and two Level D Learjet simulators in Queensland. A quarter of the airline's captains today are graduates of the schools, according to McCully.
Singapore Flying College has a capacity of 200 students a year, following a A$5 million expansion and upgrade a couple of years ago that doubled capacity, and this will remain for the next few years. While the school was established to meet the needs of SIA, it is talking to a number of airlines on the possibility of offering places. "We have a little spare capacity," says McCully, adding that due to its expertise the college believes it could make a contribution to the industry. Around 30 places a year could be made available.
McCully says SIA would like to further expand its third-party training, but that expansion will not necessarily be in Australia due to the strength of the Australian dollar and the high costs involved. Instead, it is looking at opportunities in China and India if it can find suitable locations and local partners, he says.
Meanwhile, just down the road from Singapore Flying College at Jandakot, China Southern West Australian Flying College (CSWAFC) is responsible for training pilots for the Chinese airline.
China Southern has had training facilities in Australia since 1993 and now has the facility at Jandakot and another at Merredin, 250km (155 miles) east of Perth. It was drawn to Australia by the available instructor expertise and numbers in the country, coupled with an attractive airspace environment for training and the fact that graduates would receive Australian qualifications that are internationally recognised.
So far 1,128 cadets have graduated, with a further 219 undergoing training. Following expansion two years ago the Jandakot school has a capacity for 160 students, while Merredin can take 130, according to CSWAFC. The Jandakot facilities are being upgraded, with a new ground school and maintenance facility under construction. Cadets train on a fleet of two Cessna CitationJets, 37 Grob G115Cs, five Piper Seneca Vs and four Piper Seminoles, along with Frasca simulators.
Others are keen to get in on the act. Rod Bruce, a former general aviation and airline pilot and now a senior pilot instructor with Beijing PanAm International Aviation Academy, has been seeking to establish a flight training school in Queensland for a number of years. The Bruce family owns an 800Ha (2,000 acre) property 20min from Gladstone. "We are making slow progress," he admits.
Meanwhile, existing providers are watching with interest progress with the new multi-crew pilot licence (MPL), the proving ground for which is in Australia. In conjunction with Alteon Training, Queensland-based Airline Academy Australia is conducting ground school and basic flying training for the first MPL students from China Eastern and Xiamen Airlines. The accelerated programme, approved by the International Civil Aviation Organisation, has the potential to meet the flightcrew demand from the rapidly expanding markets of China and India, many believe.
"The shortage of instructors is going to be the major problem in the future," says FTG's Morgan. FTA is recruiting worldwide for instructors and has started a supplementary business to train instructors, while Singapore Flying College has launched an instructor sponsorship scheme and facilitates applications to SIA Group airlines if instructors remain for five years.
"Everyone at this stage is addressing the problem alone, but we need a more collective approach," says Morgan.
Source: Flight International