● By Carrie Schmeck
IASCO Flight Training in ReddingStory: Carrie Schmeck Photos: Kara Stewart
What does a pilot shortage in China have to do with Redding?
Quite a lot, actually, says Anne Marie Guay, president of IASCO Flight Training, to the tune of approximately 12.5 million community dollars.
IASCO, a flight training service based in Redding (formerly in Napa), saw keen opportunity in 2007 when Chinese airlines were scrambling to expand domestic fleets. In the next 20 years, it is estimated they’ll add nearly 5,000 passenger planes. Planes don’t fly themselves, and Chinese training academies, churning out a mere 2,000 new pilots at capacity, fell about 1,000 pilots short of annual demand.
The company proposed a rigorous year-long pilot training program, and in 2009, the first class of students, recruited from universities by Chinese airlines, commenced.
So how did Redding become the backdrop for an international flight training center? It’s not exactly a mecca of global culture.
It has the resources, explains Guay. Minus robust domestic aviation traffic, Redding’s runways are available and its air space clear for training. “We’ve got the second sunniest skies in the U.S., all kinds of terrain and an operating control tower,” essential to meet the program’s FAA-based standards.
Clusters of young Chinese men (the first women students are expected this August) mill about the campus, split between an office space off Airport Road and a flight line building at the airport itself. Some pore over flight manuals, one sits with an instructor in front of a mock instrument panel and others pair up at whiteboards to reteach each other material just presented. “Our train-the-trainer technique is one of the things that has made us so successful,” says Guay.
A large monitor, looking much like the arrival and departure screens one sees at airports, tracks who is in the air at any given time. Students can progress from single-engine Cessnas to Beechcraft multi-engine and turbine high-performance planes.
When students complete the training program, they return to China with as close to a guaranteed career as one can get. After investing $81,000 to $85,000 per student, airlines are particularly interested in putting newly minted pilots to work.
But this program doesn’t just benefit Chinese airlines, explains Guay. It’s meant to also populate what the Wall Street Journal says is an imminent scarcity of trained aviators in the United States. A wave of domestic pilots will soon retire by mandate and the number of trained pilots coming out of the military has diminished, while new pilots are required to have 1,500 hours of flight experience before taking control of a passenger airplane.
IASCO Flight Training’s instructor program serves as a middle ground, where novice American pilots can earn both a living wage and precious flight hours before advancing to larger airlines.
The company is proud of its contributions to the area’s economy. “I’ve watched people who work for me say, ‘I want to stay in Redding but there is nothing here.’ We’re part of an answer to that,” Guay says. “We use local aeronautical businesses as resources and our students funnel money into community rentals, grocery stores and restaurants.” Incidentally, she mentions, Redding nearly lost the program earlier this year when IASCO planned to sell and move the operation out of state. The Economic Development Corp. of Shasta County, along with a number of local business people, managed to cobble a deal to keep the school in Redding.
Though the Chinese contracts for pilot training are lucrative and prolific, it doesn’t seem IASCO Flight Training plans to stop at status quo. Guay has designs on expansion that will include training programs for aeronautical mechanics, controllers and dispatchers. She wants to bring in $15 million high-tech training simulators that will, by nature, demand skilled information technology workers. She’s also working on an accreditation project with California colleges which would open a path for local students to attend the school and apply for financial aid.
So that Chinese pilot shortage has certainly played out in Redding’s favor, allowing this community an opportunity to reach beyond borders, entertain new culture and reap economic benefit.