By Ashwin Hemmathagama
Skyline Aviation (Pvt) Ltd. Flying Training Academy was established in April 2006 by a group of entrepreneurs and professional aviators who had a passion for flying. The main aim of the company was to infuse that same passion into new recruits, and training them to become professional and world-class pilots. Following are excerpts of an interview with Executive Director, Romesh Fernando.
Question – What is so special about your training school?
Answer – We are a 100% privately owned Board of Investment (BOI) approved project, with comprehensive approval from the Civil Aviation Authority of Sri Lanka. Our professional cadre includes some of the most experienced personnel in the aviation industry; be it flight-training instructors, engineering or ground support staff. Skyline also has some of the best, proven trainer aircraft as well as a flight simulator, for procedural training, supported with state-of-the-art facilities. We are committed to providing the best training available that adheres to very strict international standards of safety and quality. The stringent quality policies and well set-out curricula have put Skyline on the aviation map of Sri Lanka – gaining the company an unparalleled reputation for producing top quality pilots, both at examinations and performance in the air.
Q – What are the main courses you conduct?
A – The main courses are the Private Pilot Licence (PPL) and Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL). In addition to these, we also conduct the Instrument Rating (I/R), as well as offering facilities for conversion of foreign licences, renewals and flight tests. To become a pilot there are two stages: the Private Pilot Licence is the first stage, which permits you to fly on your own but not carry passengers for a fee. The Commercial Pilot Licence is the second stage, which, together with the additions such as instrument rating and multi engine rating, qualifies you to be employed with an airline and carry passengers for a fee.
Q – What are the entry criteria for PPL?
A – If you are over 17 years and have passed the General Certificate of Examination (Ordinary Level), and are medically fit, you qualify to obtain a Private Pilot’s Licence. This licence allows you to fly single-engine aircraft, which you are type-rated for. It is a licence to learn, maintain, and improve flight proficiency. A private pilot may not be paid to fly an aircraft nor carry passengers or cargo for hire or compensation. However, a PPL holder could certainly fly family and friends.
Q – What are the features of PPL flying training?
A – Your initial flying lessons for the PPL will help you become familiar with the aircraft you are training in, with basic manoeuvres under visual flight rules (VFR), which encompasses flying by looking outside, using visual cues for aircraft control and navigation. You learn about the airport traffic pattern and radio communications with Air Traffic Control (ATC). This course could be followed either on a full-time or part-time basis and can be completed in as little as six months.
Q – What are the requisites to obtain a CPL?
A – A PPL is the first step towards the CPL. The former can be further upgraded to advanced commercial and professional licences. A CPL with instrument rating (CPL/IR) will enable you to pursue a career in commercial aviation. Our courses are structured as per the JAA (Joint Aviation Authority) curricula, with the examinations being conducted by the Civil Aviation Authority of Sri Lanka (CAASL). In this integrated programme, you will obtain your PPL in Phase I, and your Instrument Rating and CPL in Phase II. Training for the CPL is not much different from the PPL, except that you learn more advanced manoeuvres and are expected to achieve a greater level of skill and airmanship. The CPL course can be completed within 12 months.
Q – What are your thoughts about the high course fees found in the aviation industry?
A – In order to understand the costs, one needs to appreciate the fact that the training involves flying aeroplanes. The course fee seems expensive in nature due to factors such as the fuel cost, the maintenance of the aircraft and the limited life-span of aircraft engines. Compared with the rest of the world, with the exception of the United States, Sri Lanka is probably the cheapest. Why I left the US out is that there is a huge difference between aviation fuel prices in US and this part of the world. This has a substantial influence over the course fee.
However, even if we do compare us to the US, the course fee here still works out cheaper than the total cost of doing your training in the US, taking into consideration the ancillary costs such as food, lodging, air travel, etc. The course fees at Skyline are payable in interest free installments. Banks such as Commercial Bank and HSBC and certain others offer student education loans, which have low interest rates and allows you a repayment period over several years.
On becoming a professional pilot, your earning capacity could be anything between Rs. 500,000 to Rs. 1,500,000 monthly. Of course, the latter is with several years’ experience. Compared to such emoluments the course fee is negligible and can be seen as an initial investment to a very-lucrative career.
Q – Why should somebody select aviation as a career with some airlines finding it difficult to operate?
A – Interest and demand is somewhat determined by what people perceive of the global aviation industry at large. Global recession actually had some sort of an impact where certain airlines started to cut-down staff and ground some of their aircraft. But if you analyse the history of this industry, this is cyclical. In any industry or business there are peaks and troughs. Whatever said and done, there is an increase in international passenger travel, as well as cargo movement, simply due to the global shift in trade, business and tourism. Even during the recession, many airlines were procuring more aircraft. Aircraft manufacturers kept building bigger, faster and more efficient aircraft for commercial use. Countries are building new airports or expanding the existing ones. So the industry keeps expanding.