FOR those with the desire to pursue careers in the aviation industry, the sky is literally the limit, as schools such as the Caribbean Aviation Training Centre (CATC) have made it possible for these individuals to become certified pilots in as little as two months.
The school opened in 2001 and since that time has graduated over 800 students who are making their mark all over the world, and are to be found especially in countries in the Middle East and in the United States, where they have grasped opportunities in the commercial airline industry and the military.
The visionary behind the training centre is pilot and former Jamaica Defence Force official Captain Errol Stewart who got involved in aviation in 1973. The flight school is just one of 300 worldwide that have been set up by the Cessna aircraft company. The centre is also guided by both Federal Aviation Administration regulations in the US as well as the Jamaica Civil Aviation regulations.
Since its inception, the school has been doing extremely well, and in 2006 was named the number one flight school out of the 300 Cessna pilot centres. In 2007, they remained in the top five and in 2009 claimed the top spot again.
"With that recognition, it puts us in the eyes of the international aviation community, so our standard has to be maintained," Stewart said.
One of the ways the school maintains this standard is to select students based on their passion to succeed in the industry.
"Not every student that comes in here makes the grade; some we have to recommend to their parents that they should go on to other things," he said.
"This is something you have to study and it's not because it looks glittery and glamorous, you can't jump into it -- you have to have the brains to retain what we are teaching you within the given framework. We teach kids to work smart, not hard, because you don't have to work hard. Smart means I teach you something and you in turn teach it back to me, that shows that you have retained the knowledge."
A student can get their student pilot's licence at age 16, then the private pilot's licence by 17 and then their commercial licence at 18. The airline services doesn't usually employ them until they are 21 and have flown for a certain number of hours.
The typical training programme to get a private pilot's licence could last from anywhere between six months up to a year depending on several factors, such as the finances of the individual and the weather. In addition to doing a written examination, students would have to do 24 hours of flying with an instructor, then at least 12 hours worth of flying alone to places such as Montego Bay and Negril.
"With such a programme, a kid can be on an accelerated programme where he will obtain the private licence within the given hours in a shorter time span," Captain Stewart pointed out.
"It is good to know that ever so often, we have a record being set. The other day we had a record set where a student obtained maximum amount on the flight test, never has that been done. Over the years, we have had students getting 100 per cent on the written exam at the Civil Aviation Authority," he said.
Just last week, 17-year-old Romario Burrell established another record by becoming the first person to ever receive a private pilot's licence in just 37 days. The youngster joined the programme in July this year and scored 139 out of a possible 140 in his flight test last Monday.
Among other things, Stewart credits Burrell's success to the effectiveness of his school's mentorship programme. Under this programme, students from as young as nine are invited to the training centre where they meet with pilots and are taught to fly.
"What it does is that from an early age out, if the kid wants to become a pilot or go into the aviation industry, we start to groom them from that time and then they can get their student pilot's licence at age 16," Stewart noted.
Although it's hard to imagine a nine-year-old flying a plane, the flight school boss said that they do allow them, like all the other mentees, to fly their parents around at the end of the programme, which is generally advertised during the summer.
"At the end of the course these kids have to now take their parents flying, so they sit in the pilot's seat with an instructor and the parent in the back videotaping them to see what they have learnt, and they fly all over the city and this gets their adrenaline pumping," he said.
The top four students in the batch are generally given scholarships to attend the ground school at CATC. Those who are very passionate about going into the aviation field are encouraged to align themselves with a pilot at the school, so they can continue to get some amount of training.
At a cost of at least $1.3 million for basic training and a price tag amounting to $4 million for training for the commercial industry, the study of aviation has been seen for the most part as an area for the more affluent. But Stewart said this does not have to be the case, as persons can try to get their training in stages as their finances dictate.
"If I see a youngster with passion, it doesn't take anything out of me to give him my time, and once I see he has excelled on the ground, I will work with the parent," he said.
Stewart said there are at least 64 jobs in the aviation industry which students can pursue. While males are usually more enthusiastic about planes, he has over the years noticed that it's mostly females who hold the top jobs in the industry, owing to their ability to multitask.
The CATC generally enrols batches of students in January, April, July and September, but the pilot said individual students can apply any time during the year. Those with a desire to be in the field are encouraged to have at least five CXC subjects and meet the other requirements of the flight school they plan to sign up with.
"The first requirement is that you have to have common sense -- it is a must. You have to have an aptitude for it. You know you have some parents who want the kid to do this and the kid doesn't want to do it. We have to identify that this is what the child wants," he said.
Stewart said the aviation industry is a viable one for those with a desire to make it. International catastrophes such as the 9/11 attacks have also created more opportunities for pilots as more commercial entities move towards having their own private jets and aeroplanes.
ON THE COVER: Students Angel Fisher Green and Jason Rimann check out a flight metre during one of their sessions.