Saturday 23 September 2017

A costly pursuit but students on cloud nine

Laura Noonan

Laura Noonan

WHEN I visited the Pilot Training College's Florida outpost in 2010, I felt like I'd stumbled on the land that the recession forgot.

The Waterford-based company that had invited me to come out was on the up, flush with new contracts to train pilots for airlines.

And the trainee pilots, many of them Irish, were full of the optimism and high spirits that typified our university students in the early noughties.

Yes, they were paying close to €100,000 for their education and, yes, some of them were taking on massive debts, but they firmly believed it would all pay off.

In Ireland, building up the required flight hours needed to obtain a pilot's licence can be torturous. The planes these pilots learn to fly on aren't the Boeing 737s from Ryanair, or the Airbus of Aer Lingus. They are four-seater planes that are much more easily grounded by inclement weather.

Anyone familiar with the Irish weather can appreciate how learning to fly in Ireland can be frustrating, as lesson after lesson is cancelled.

The Florida climate is far more considerate, and pilots are able to build up their flying hours there much more reliably and quickly.

The trainee pilots also get to sample a slice of the famed American college life. The bunch I met lived on campus, mixed with other students and enjoyed the kudos that came with walking around in a pilot's uniform (even if it did have 'trainee' stripes on the side).

There were other perks too. When I was there we did a 'fly over' to Nassau in the Bahamas, where the students got their first taste of international flying as our fleet of about 10 planes crossed from the US.

Private airports, swimming with pigs, and a visit to the stunning Atlantis resort were just some of the highlights of an unforgettable weekend that would have seemed even more spectacular to a gang of teenagers.

My overwhelming memory of their Florida experience, though, isn't any of that. It's the print-outs of a cockpit interior that were pinned up all over the walls of one of the apartments I visited.

This was Florida, there was a whole world outside the dorm-room door, but they were all there to work.

Irish Independent

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