Looking to start a flight school? Be prepared for plenty of moving parts and partners. CAT Editor Rick Adams spoke with startup Skyborne Airline Academy.

It’s natural for someone with a passion for flying, observing the forecasted need for hundreds of thousands of new airline pilots over the next two decades, to be inclined to launch a flight school to help address the demand.

Between the passion and the pursuit, however, there are myriad elements to put in place to be successful.

Consider the example of Skyborne Airline Academy, circa August 2018. First, they needed classrooms and an airport for basic instruction: the choice was Gloucestershire (GLO) near the picturesque Cotswolds hills in the south-west of England. A fair-weather airport is beneficial, too, for year-round flight training: how about underutilised Castellón (CDT) on the Spanish Med coast plus the ab initio airspace capital of the universe, Arizona. A couple of modern flight training devices (FTDs), in this case the first certified Boeing 737 MAX FTD1 from Multi-Pilot Simulations (MPS) in The Netherlands and an AL42 device from Alsim, France. Training management software to keep track of people, resources and activities – Skyborne selected the cloud-based FlightLogger. Aircraft, of course: Diamond DA42s with Garmin avionics. And an array of instructors, administrators, accountants, legal advisors, consultants (such as public relations firm 8020communications) and management – CEO Lee Woodward, previously business development director at CTC Aviation; COO Ian Cooper, former operations director at CAE; and Chairman Tom Misner, longtime president of the SAE Institute.

Once you’ve assembled your flight training school kit and crafted the curricula, it’s time to seek the blessing of the regulators: the UK Civil Aviation Authority (and others, depending on where you deliver training or in which countries graduates will seek their licences.)

Authorised training organisation (ATO) approval framed on the wall, it’s time to open the doors: career days for aspiring cadets, contracts with airlines such as IndiGo. And to smooth the path to pilotdom, a partner to assist with student financing (Optimum Credit).

Not as simple as jumping in a two-seater cockpit and rolling down the runway.

Cooper calls Skyborne a “boutique” flight school, “set up around a small cast of members, knowing everyone’s name,” not seeking to train thousands of pilots. They are scaled to handle 120 ab initio cadets and another 60 in modular courses with a three-year plan to get to those numbers.

“We’re looking to offer alternative approaches on a much smaller scale and really focus on our training philosophies,” Cooper told CAT. Skyborne calls its method progressive continuous learning (PCL), integrating theoretical knowledge with practical flight training from the early stages so cadets develop a deep understanding of the subject and then immediately apply it in a real-world flying environment.

They currently offer a European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA)-approved Integrated Airline Transport Pilot Licence (ATPL) as well as Modular ATPL options. Even though Skyborne is not currently promoting the Multi-crew Pilot Licence (MPL), Connor said, “We’re training to competency; once you achieve a core competency, you can then move on to the next segment of training. The matrix of grading and assessing the training is done in a competency-based training psychology.”

Despite his C-title, Cooper is still instructing. “We didn’t want to become desk managers. We want to make sure we can walk the talk, as they say. We actually enjoy it.”

“We are really keen to make sure the work environment is a positive place. The employees and students can have their say. When you have a consensus, it feels like a nice place, it’s home. That’s what we set out to achieve.”

Ground has been broken on permanent student accommodations in Gloucestershire, and in Spain the school has leased two-bedroom apartments with balconies and barbecues on a beach. “We want the student experience to be first class. It makes me wish I were younger,” said Cooper.

Published in CAT issue 3/2019