The New Zealand International Commercial Pilot Academy (NZICPA) in Whanganui expects to more than double the number of trainee pilots in the year ahead.
The flight school is this month due to renew the contract for its cadet programme with Indian airline IndiGo.
NZICPA chief executive Gerard Glanville said while there had not yet been an indication from IndiGo about the size of the next agreement, a similar deal to train 200 cadets over three years was expected.
In May this year, the largest cohort of international students since borders closed in March 2020 began 12 and 15-month pilot training programmes in Whanganui.
The 50 students include 19 IndiGo pilot cadets and 31 students training for a commercial pilot licence through India’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA). There are also 19 domestic trainee pilots.
“There are currently twice as many DGCA as Indigo Air. Normally it’s the other way around – this is just a nuance of starting up out of Covid,” Glanville said.
“The students are doing really well, they are going solo. It’s been a bit upsetting for them though because more rainy days than normal mean there are more days they can’t fly.”
Glanville travelled to India in August to meet with IndiGo and recruitment agency Flightrule.
He said the outgoing agreement for 200 cadets over three years was not fulfilled because of the Covid-19 pandemic and resulting border closures, but Flightrule was recruiting for the next contract beginning in January.
“It takes a few months to start the engine again – we’re only anticipating big movements in student numbers from next year onwards,” Glanville said.
“Over the next 12 months, we’re hoping to get to 130 students in total. The next cohort change will be around January, and we will then see what numbers we have. The growth plan was 130-150 – we will be back to that this time next year.”
The pilot academy was considered a key economic development initiative for Whanganui. It was established and is owned by Whanganui District Council through its holding company, Whanganui District Council Holdings Limited (WDCHL).
WDCHL bought Flight Training Manawatū, a small flight school in Feilding, built a professional pilot training complex at Whanganui Airport in 2016 and began operating the school out of Whanganui in 2017.
It is the only pilot academy in New Zealand to train IndiGo cadets. The programme was also run in Australia, the United States and South Africa.
Glanville said the Whanganui academy is ready for the growth in international students.
“We have sufficient accommodation and resources, equipment, planes. As we grow we’ll increase the pool of instructors through the domestic scheme – some will elect to do an instructor course – to grow our instructor pool.”
He said the students are attracted to Whanganui by the lifestyle opportunities.
“They love New Zealand, that’s the starting point. New Zealand is marketed well to them. And then they see Whanganui city and the lifestyle.
“On the social media environment, they comment on how great it is to be in Whanganui, and the social environment – the sports clubs, social events, working with the SPCA.
“They do a lot of social initiatives around Whanganui. Some have joined local cricket teams and we have some at the squash courts and playing tennis and soccer.”
Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air