The New Zealand Airline Academy has taken off and is still gaining altitude.
The flight school, which operates from Oamaru Airport, opened its doors last August and has attracted 26 students in its first year.
It recently signed a deal with AirAsia India to bring in an additional 50 trainee pilots to the district over the next year.
New Zealand Airline Academy directors, chief executive officer Jonathan Manuel and chief flight instructor Celroy Mascarenhas, chose Oamaru as a base after looking at several other options in New Zealand.
“It gave us a blank canvas; there were several runways here that were not being used much,” Mr Mascarenhas said.
“The Waitaki District Council were also very proactive. We never felt like we had to chase them; they were always a step ahead and keen to get the ball rolling.”
Each student spends more than $100,000 in the year they study for their commercial pilot licence and one of the academy’s principles was to support local businesses.
“We want the people here to see the economic benefits of this flight school,” Mr Mascarenhas said.
The school has 10 full-time staff, including four flight instructors.
Oamaru Airport was an “excellent” base for the students to learn, he said.
“If you go to one of the major airports, it seems all fancy, with an A380 or 737 taxiing around, but you spend a lot of time on the ground waiting for them, because they take priority.
“And you are paying for it because your engine is running.
“Also, we can be night flying all night and have not had a single complaint.”
Students live in the former Rendell on Reed rest-home building, which provided better living conditions than almost all the other flight schools in the country, Mr Mascarenhas said.
At present, the school has one multi-engine and two single-engine aircraft, with two more single-engine ones arriving in the next month.
Mr Manuel said modern aircraft were what set the Oamaru-based flight school apart from others in New Zealand.
“We have glass cockpits with touchscreen technology – all the navigation and instrumentation is displayed on LCD screens, as opposed to the old analogue systems.”
Mr Manuel and Mr Mascarenhas both studied for their pilot licences in New Zealand in 2007, and met years later in India.
They said they wanted to show a long-term commitment to North Otago and were grateful for all of the support they had received so far.