The New Zealand Airline Academy (NZAA) is flying above the aviation industry’s troubles.
Thousands of pilots around the world have been laid off or stood down as international travel has been brought to a halt, but the Oamaru Airport-based NZAA has received an increase in enquiries from prospective students.
“Aviation has hit rock bottom across the globe, with all the planes grounded. We have never seen that in our lifetime,” chief executive Jonathan Manuel said.
“[But] once you hit rock bottom the only way you can go is to start going up.”
It would probably take 18 to 24 months for the industry to get back to where it was before – about the same amount of time it took to train a commercial pilot, Mr Manuel said.
If student pilots started training this year, they could be graduating in a resurgent industry, he said.
“Even though you have a drop in global air travel, you have got to keep in mind in every country pilots are retiring every day,” he said.
After the terrorist attacks of September 11, demand for international air travel dropped, but recovered as strict security measures were put in place, he said.
“When 9/11 happened, people said aviation was going to take a big downfall, but things change. What they did was bring in security measures.
“Similar to that, you will find there will be some sort of medical measure when you come into an airport – they will put something in place.”
While there would probably be a drop in the number of student pilots worldwide, that would be felt the most in the United States, NZAA chief flight instructor Celroy Mascarenhas said.
“New Zealand is well placed to take advantage of what happens next,” Mr Mascarenhas said.
“With New Zealand having dealt with Covid-19 so well . . . [and] with everything that is happening in America right now – their Covid response, the riots and all of that – our enquiries are actually going up.
“When parents go to all that effort of sending their children to becoming a pilot, they are not just thinking about money qualification’, it is about child actually going to be safe over there?’.”
Most of the NZAA’s 78 students were from India or Asia, and were pleased to be in New Zealand, Mr Mascarenhas said.
“We are really well set up for quarantine . . . we already have the systems in place.”
Last year, the school developed a partnership with AirAsia to provide pilot training, but most students signed up to the NZAA independently, he said. At present, the school has a waiting list of students, as there had been visa delays with the outbreak of Covid-19.
To capture the overseas market, Mr Mascarenhas believed pilot training schools had to invest in the best equipment, which was what the NZAA was doing.
The Oamaru-based school has eight Tecnam P2008 single-engine planes and one multi-engine Tecnam P2006 aircraft.
The average age of aircraft in the fleet is six months and all have glass cockpits and touch screen controls, rather than the older analogue systems.
“All of the airlines have this technology, but not many of the schools,” Mr Manuel said.
“All our aircraft except one have the technology. It’s a big point of difference.”
The new digital technology included real-time 3D maps that showed where the plane was, even in zero visibility, which added an extra layer of safety, Mr Mascarenhas said.
“Our philosophy is our students learn all the basics, but if they get anything wrong, they shouldn’t pay for it with their life.”