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First Czech flying school trains global pilots

People come to Benešov from across the world to learn how to fly commercial jets at F Air

Before the Velvet Revolution, flying was not free. The people who were allowed to fly had to be approved by the authorities, access to planes was restricted and the number of planes was limited. When communism fell, there was more freedom to fly but learning how was still difficult. F Air was established in 1990 and was the first  flight school in Central and Eastern Europe. It has expanded greatly since its beginnings and now has several projects in China, as well as other countries. F Air's headquarters is at Benešov Airport, a small civil facility some 40 kilometers from Prague.

Michal Markovič CEO F Air with Mrs. Zhe Tang, the first Chinese female pilot flying solo in the Czech Republic

The company now trains commercial pilots for several international carriers as well as hobbyists who fly small planes. “After 1990 there were many people who wanted to fly. We decided to train them to fly. We started with gliders for hobby flying,” said Michal Markovič, CEO and head of training at F Air. “Step by step we built our flight school to now, when we are able to train people for every license and every rating in civil aviation for airplanes.” This covers everything from an ultralight plane up to an Airbus.

“Since we are the first flight school, we have always been the leader in each process,” he added. His school was the first to offer licenses valid across the EU, for example.

They are also the first in the region to have established a university program for professional pilots. The program was set up in 1995 at the Institute of Air Transport at the Czech Technical University (ČVUT) in Prague. Upon graduation, the students receive a commercial pilot license. F Air also has programs at the Brno University of Technology (VUT-Brno) and the University College of Business in Prague (VŠO).

In the Czech Republic, F Air cooperates with Czech Airlines and Travel Service, and has other partners in the Middle East, Asia and Africa. “We are not a small school, but we are a small company. We have 30 full-time employees and about 50 part-time employees,” he said. Most of the part-time employees are experienced pilots who work for airlines.

Currently one of F Air's biggest projects is developing four flight schools in China. “Right now China is in the same situation as Czechoslovakia was 25 years ago,” he said. Airspace has just been released from military to civil control, and civilians can now learn how to fly. But there is a lack of experience in teaching. “We are transferring the know-how  on how to run and operate a flight training center. We will train the staff, instructors and management for them,” he said.

They have a new cooperation with Sichuan Airlines in western China, one of the biggest airlines in the country. They also have projects in India and Israel. The school in Benešov is currently training 16 commercial pilots from Mali, and pilots from China will come eventually as well.

In Kazakhstan the company cooperates with a technical university in Almaty. 

The cooperation with China took seven years to develop. Markovič said he knew for some time that China would be opening up and saw it as time to make a move. Several times he was tempted to give up as progress was so slow, but in the end he was successful. F Air worked on the deal before the recent interest on the part of the Czech government to increase ties with China.

The long-term goal of F Air is to establish several stable partners, building on the success of the partnerships with the Czech Technical University and Czech Airlines.

There are two main ways to get a commercial pilot license. One program is for people who are already working, and another for students. “The university program definitely has more advantages because of education. When airlines interview new pilots, university students are on top,” Markovič said.

The university program takes three years for a bachelor's degree, an includes theory and practice. The first year is on the ground, and the next two years include flying. Students learn on small planes first before moving to bigger ones.  For example they learn how to fly only using instruments and also learn how to fly a two-engine plane with only one engine working.

At the end of three years, students get a commercial license. Once they go to an airline they prepare for a type rating to fly a specific model of plane and learn on a flight simulator.

Commercial pilots generally fly just one type of airplane, due to internal standards. “The pilot must be prepared to solve emergency situations quickly and correctly,”  Markovič said. Various controls are in different places on different planes, and flying just one type helps to avoid confusion.

For people not coming from a university but studying on their own, it takes a minimum of year to learn to fly an Airbus and costs around €50,000. For working people who study part time it takes two years.

F Air has its own flight simulator, in addition to a fleet of two, four and six-seat aircraft.

“It is not really expensive when you compare it to how much time it takes to become a doctor or a lawyer,” Markovič said, adding that doctors can study for up to nine years without pay, and have to spend money on food and housing during that time.

A pilot can start earning a salary after one year and see increases until he or she becomes a captain and earns at least €8,000 a month, depending on the airline.

There also very few worries about finding a job, as demand for commercial pilots has been growing.

Training is also safe, and the school has had no fatal accidents in its history.

F Air trains about 100 pilots a years, with half for commercial licenses and half as hobbyists.

F Air on Prague.TV - Living Like a Local! or web

by Raymond Johnston, - Prague 09.06.2016


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