I've been with this company, FH1100 Manufacturing Corp./Helicopter Technology Inc. since 2001. In that time, we've concentrated on building helicopters. But Georges' son Cedric is here. He did a stint in the Marines, then got out and got all his pilot ratings (fixed and rotor) as well as an A&P. He is eager and enthusiastic and he wants to fly! He's been bugging us to "put a helicopter up." You know...for charter, photo flights, flight training...stuff like that. But Georges and I have done our share of operating helicopters, and we really don't want to do it again. Too many issues, not all of them pleasant, when you're an operator. Too many hassles.
Well one day in January 2006 we were sitting around having a "strategy session," (read: long lunch) when the subject of a flight school came up again. One of them (and I can't remember whether it was Georges or Cedric) suggested doing a flight school, but using the FH1100 instead of a piston trainer. An all-turbine ab-initio flight school? At first the idea sounded kooky.
But the more we discussed it, the more sense it made. First question: Could it make money? Well, who else can operate our helicopter more cheaply? We've been watching the prices that piston schools charge, and they're inching up toward (and sometimes above) $300 per hour! And let's not even talk about the king's ransom Bell charges for their Training Academy. So the first order of business was to see whether it was financially do-able; whether we could offer the FH1100 at a low enough price to be "competitive" with the high-end pistons yet still make money for us.
Secondly, we asked: Why couldn't we start an all-turbine school? People are going to need turbine-time anyway; why not give it to them from the get-go? Let's face it, the vast majority of working helicopters out there (at least, those that are *not* in the training environment) are turbines. Frankie's R-44 is a great personal helicopter, but it is simply not robust enough for serious commercial work. (Not to mention that it doesn't have a proper baggage compartment.)
It's funny how quickly the idea of an all-turbine flight school gelled.
We'll put students through, training them from day one in the FH1100. We'll train them as not just commercial pilots, but Professional Pilots. Nearly anyone can get the rating and proclaim that he can make money as a pilot now. But actually doing it is quite another thing. Since I have a little bit of expertise in this field, our courses will be designed to give the students "real world" experience. My first plan is to write an Operations Manual that all pilots who fly our aircraft must become familiar with and adhere to. It's funny how a lot of commercial pilots just want to go out and do their own thing and *not* follow a manual (or FAR, for that matter).
Another part of my plan is to have an elevated platform so students can get familiar with the kind of pinnacle operations that you find in the offshore environment. I'd also like to do some rudimentary external-load training - not necessarily long-line, but who knows? It would be better than having the customers just burning holes in the sky as they build time for their Commercial Rating.
("My plan," "my plan"...sounds like I'm a one-man show here, eh? Not so. Cedric is running the school, but at least I have some input into what we're going to teach over and above that which is needed for the PTS.)
Once the students successfully get their CFI, we'll hire the best and put them to work teaching others what they've just learned. Once they get up toward 1,000 hours, they'll become marketable and move on, making room for those coming up after them.
An informal market survey told me that there was a huge demand for cheap turbine time. Whether that will translate into paying customers is something that remains to be seen.
So we're going to do it, we're going to be an operator. I am not exactly thrilled. I know what can go wrong. Chip lights or dead batteries at inopportune places...things like that. And I'm not looking forward to it. So I'm hard at work, trying to get us to a point where we are actually prepared to handle the "stuff" that is bound to happen.
The flight school is still in the "building" stage. We're not quite ready to receive students, but we're getting very close. This is the fun part, getting things set up. The next couple of months are going to be interesting indeed.
For more information on our school, you could always contact me or Cedric at the company (www.fh1100.com). Or you could stay tuned here, where I'll be posting updates and progress reports and behind-the-scenes stuff (like how what we intend to do about the spectre of an - eeek! - overtemp on startup).