While new technology and training aids have vastly improved ab initio pilot training, the full benefit of that investment can only be realised if applied by excellent instructors. CAT Europe Editor Chris Long, FRAeS, solicited views on the process from three key individuals at an innovative ATO.

Build a passion in aviation into the process, and the result is teaching which yields the best quality of a new generation of pilots (who are more than quick enough to identify genuine quality and buy into it.) That is the drive for the whole team of passionate individuals at Norwegian-based Pilot Flight Academy (PFA), who have deep aviation experience and are wholeheartedly engaged in the enterprise.

Now equipped with modern Diamond aircraft, PFA has plans to convert to all-electric powered aircraft to achieve the goal of a complete “green” training solution.

Here, in their own words, are the backstories and perspectives of a trio of the team members.

The Visionary - Frode Granlund, CEO

“As a child in Norway, I had a dream of becoming a pilot, but there was not much information available, and my father said that I wasn’t smart enough to become a pilot. So I built and flew radio-controlled model aircraft up to the age of 13, and then later almost forgot about flying. 

Having worked for 20 years restoring damaged cars, one day I was invited to go fishing in the mountains in Norway. To get to this location we were flown in a Cessna 206 seaplane and it was this journey that reignited my childhood dream.

I asked the pilot how to get a pilot’s license, a seaplane rating, and a seaplane itself. He laughed at me but gave me the telephone number of a flight instructor. After a year or so I achieved my PPL with seaplane rating and purchased my first seaplane.

I now wanted to start a seaplane company, and that is how I met my colleague Runar who was an aircraft technician, a private seaplane pilot and whose father had a light aircraft maintenance company.

To be able to fly commercially I naturally had to go to a flight school to obtain my CPL. The first day I arrived there I called Runar and said that we should start our own flight school because, I said, “we can do this so much better”.

We ran our own seaplane base under the wings of an approved AOC-holder for four years whilst we worked to establish PFA. We finally received ATO approval in January 2008 and have not looked back since.

Both Runar and I still fly seaplanes and we also collect, maintain, and fly some warbirds in our spare time. Aviation is truly in our blood and we love to share that passion with tomorrow’s commercial pilots that come and train at PFA.

Aviation has been hit hard by coronavirus, but I do believe that the recovery will come relatively soon. People will and still want to travel. To be able to meet other people and to see other cultures is a real education and is, in my opinion, the strongest driver for global understanding, peace and tolerance in the world.

Sadly, many airline pilots have lost their jobs or gone into an early retirement due to the crisis, and a large number of these pilots will not return to the cockpit when recovery comes. I therefore believe that there will soon be a greater pilot shortage than ever.

PFA will continue to invest in high-quality pilot education with top modern equipment, airline-focused training syllabi and continue to strive to be the preferred employer for flight instructors. We believe the key quality element in commercial pilot education is top motivated, qualified and experienced flight instructors.

Furthermore, we will introduce electric training aircraft as soon as possible. If we don’t invest in green technology now, we will not be able to attract the best candidates to become pilots.

We will have to compete with other professions for talented individuals, and to be able to be competitive we have to prove sustainability, provide great career opportunities and offer good funding programs for commercial pilot education.

PFA has established great student funding programs in the Nordic region, and we will soon also be providing this in other European countries. Hopefully this will then enable us to recruit the very best candidates to pilot us in the future.”

The Instructor - Nils Gunnar

“I joined PFA in February 2019 during a busy expansion period for the company. I had worked for major airlines for over 22 years, most recently with Emirates for 13 years. My last 10 years were spent flying their global network as a Captain on the Boeing 777. I then realised it was time for a change, and I needed a new challenge.

At the start of my career in the early 90s I completed a government-sponsored ab initio programme at Torp, Norway (a programme similar to Integrated ATPL). Unfortunately at that time there were not many airlines hiring.

I followed a different path and set course for the US to complete an FAA conversion programme with a ‘build-on block’ for CFI. I really enjoyed my time teaching and flying within the general aviation environment of California over a two-year period. I also got some great insights to some of the great American warbirds, an interest of mine. Whilst this period was very hard work, I feel extremely privileged to have gained all that experience.

I did not get the opportunity to train pilots within an airline environment, but when my good friend invited me to PFA for a visit, the bug and enthusiasm for training came back. I knew this was something I wanted to be involved in again.

Wow, was I blown away by the first impressions at PFA! What amazed me was how teaching had moved forward and was so much more relevant whilst using the latest technology. There was a sense of utter professionalism across the whole academy at PFA.

Timing is everything in aviation and I was fortunate to be hired as a Flight Instructor at PFA on the basis of my dual-hours time, as I had no EASA FI rating. PFA had a well-developed plan for my lack of FI rating and after five months of in-house training I achieved most of my EASA FI ratings and was ready to meet our students. One project that interested me was the introduction of advanced UPRT and I was given the opportunity of developing our own Advanced UPRT course at PFA last autumn.

I believe it’s very beneficial for our students to receive training from experienced airline pilots rather than newly trained pilots with no commercial experience. Having the knowledge and experience to see which pilot competencies help make the student a good airline pilot and a resilient aviator is helpful in the student’s progression through the course and helping them focus on areas of improvement. It was, at the time, a difficult decision to leave a well-paid airline job, but with the high global future training demand, great student financial support and a truly professional academy at PFA, it was a change of direction I do not regret.

My younger FI colleagues find my decision to join PFA at an older age less odd as time passes, and I try to encourage them to stay current as FI even if they do pursue an airline career.

Being an FI brings an energizing change to flying passenger/cargo transport. I find it a great honour to teach our future aviators; it is such a rewarding experience. I have great variation in my everyday tasks and the teaching at PFA is very efficient with a high focus on modern online solutions, scripted training sessions, online student feedback and student progress monitoring. PFA respect their FIs and wish to deliver the role as a career choice with appropriate lifestyle and benefits. I’m sure more airline pilots will consider joining us in the future, so we can continue to do what we all signed up for: flying aeroplanes but with the added benefit of teaching the pilots of tomorrow.”

The Planner - Colin Rydon, VP International Business

“I have had a passion for training throughout my 30-plus years in aviation. My career started learning to fly at Southend airport on an RAF Flying Scholarship in 1987. Soon after I had the great opportunity of training at British Aerospace Flying College in Prestwick, Scotland on the British Airways cadet programme. The time I spent in both locations was a period that I absolutely loved, with great training from experienced instructors and supportive friends/future colleagues. It is true what most say in that you always remember your first instructors, and their lasting impression on you never wanes. Indeed, looking back in my logbook, I see a Chris Long there on 21 April 1989 conducting my navigation flight test – glad to say I passed that one!

From those early days the importance of quality and passionate instructors/examiners was etched in my memory. During my flying career I have been lucky to fly many different aircraft types and with various airlines around the globe, but the qualities of the great instructor/examiner do not differ, just the technical elements and regulatory structure. Whilst we do not remember all of our instructor/examiner experiences, certain training experiences stick in our heads. So when I had the opportunity to become a training copilot (TRI/TRE) on the B747-400 I jumped at the opportunity and tried to learn from the great instructors/examiners as to how to ensure I could deliver training to the same standards as I had witnessed over the years. One element I learnt was you never stop developing as an instructor/examiner and that you owe it to the trainee to always do your absolute best for them. Since then I have been involved in all forms of commercial pilot training on various aircraft types and with several different companies.

What brings me to Pilot Flight Academy? I would say it is the passion and dedication of the people at PFA who wish to deliver the highest-quality commercial pilot training. Too often I find that many flight schools/training centres that I have visited are purely focused on the financial gain rather than putting the student and client at the focus of everything they do.

Frode encompasses everything positive about aviation – he has an absolute love and passion for flying! His enthusiasm for helping young people achieve their dreams and ambitions in aviation is everything I wish to be a part of, but it seems to be so lacking elsewhere. The lack of respect to the Flight Instructor community by many flight schools does not exist at PFA. At PFA the Flight Instructor is actively encouraged as a career choice with the respect that it deserves. This is shown in the development of the FI and the funding/training options afforded to individuals who wish to go this route.

I hope that I can bring my experience to PFA to help it grow globally whilst maintaining the highest standards of training. I truly believe that the team at PFA have something special and that the product and quality is desired by many airlines and individuals across the globe. We would like to truly serve all those aspiring young pilots and client airlines by delivering the highest-quality training programmes, with valued and experienced Flight Instructors, with a focus on the individual. We need to put the fun back into flight training and to ensure that it is the best experience it can be for our young aspiring pilots whilst ensuring we deliver the quality the airlines desire.

Look out for PFA over the next few years as we grow across Europe and beyond. Whilst we are in challenging times, I know that with the drive and ambition from PFA's owners that anything is possible and that we are in a position to be the flight school of choice for both the students and the airlines. Whilst some flight schools look to reduce costs and not invest further, we are excited about how we can invest more in the future of pilot training. We are keen to deliver a carbon-free training programme using electric aircraft, deliver more training course options for airlines, innovate with the tools we use to train today's student, and ensure we give all our students a fun experience!

I am proud to be working with such a great team at PFA. Together we are the future of commercial pilot training where the student is at the heart of all we do.”

Does It Work?

Today’s world of flight training requires gender and other diversity, opportunity, and modern facilities to make it an attractive option for student and airline alike. A vision can interesting in its own right, but in the commercial world, for any ATO, the numbers have to add up.

Perhaps the best judgement is from the customers – the individual students and, importantly, the airlines. With courses well attended and filled with legacy airlines, and with others having visited ​and shown interest, it is significant that major airlines from around the world have now booked courses – ANA and Air France are just two of the airlines with students training at PFA.

What many see as an uncertain future is one of opportunity so far as PFA is concerned, but always with people – students and instructors – at the core.