Flying school chief staying positive amid uncertainty

Mainland Air and Mainland Aviation College chief executive Philip Kean is trying to remain...
Mainland Air and Mainland Aviation College chief executive Philip Kean is trying to remain confident despite the global disruption to the pilot industry. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
There has possibly not been a worse time to become a pilot.

But Mainland Aviation College chief executive Philip Kean is not letting the Covid-19 pandemic dampen his spirits.

"I’m staying confident," he said.

Almost all of his students come from overseas — most of them from India — and with borders closed or heavily restricted for the near term, an expected group of about 18 budding pilots will have to wait before they can come to do their studies at the Taieri training site.

"We’ve done online courses for two of our agents in India over the last two months.

"They’re doing it for preparation of the New Zealand exam ... I think there’s 18 [students] altogether in India at the moment, waiting to come."

The college was in the same position as other education providers such as universities who were reliant on international students, Mr Kean said.

"But the world won’t stay locked down forever,"he said.

"The next two or three years is going to be difficult for all of us getting students and getting them into the country."

Some young people who had been considering becoming pilots would likely now take up another career path, Mr Kean said, but he was still hoping his facility would get the numbers it needed out of India’s massive population.

"I’m working on the fact you’ve got 1.5billion people in India and we only need 60 of them to make our outfit work.

"We’re working with a huge population compared with New Zealand, aren’t we?"

The college had to move fast to work out how students would continue their studies during the Alert Level 4 lockdown.

They had 65 students staying at Burns Lodge in Mosgiel.

"My biggest concern ... I hoped Covid never got in there," Mr Kean said.

"It would have been a total disaster [with them] living in close quarters like that."

During lockdown the students did all their studies online, and as a result missed out on important flying hours.

"That kept them going towards their exams."

They were not able to fly during Level 3, but increased their studies from online only to being able to participate in ground and simulator work.

"Just bringing out a small number at a time to the school, in their own bubble," Mr Kean said.

The group of 65 students became one large bubble because the college had "hardly any" domestic students joining them from other bubbles.

"We were quite safe in that respect," Mr Kean said.

They were able to get back to flying in Alert Level 2, and the students were catching up on their required hours in the air.

The month and a-half of missed flying meant the students would increase their flying to catch up from now until Christmas.

Since the lockdown one student has passed his exams and qualified as a pilot. He has now gone back to India.

Mr Kean was grateful for the increase in local interest lately.

In the last couple of weeks he had seen several local families bringing their teenage children in for trial flights.

"One parent brought three children [on Thursday].

"She brought them out and shouted them a flight each, at the controls of the aeroplane."








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