Northern Rivers Aero Club instructor and commercial pilot Phil Heal (left) with 17-year-old trainee pilot Mitch Baker, of Casino.
Northern Rivers Aero Club instructor and commercial pilot Phil Heal (left) with 17-year-old trainee pilot Mitch Baker, of Casino. DAVID NIELSEN

Trainee pilots slow to get off the ground

PHIL HEAL had never been in a plane until his first flying lesson four years ago.

“I got stung by the bug and that was it,” he said.

Now a commercial pilot and instructor at the Northern Rivers Aero Club, the Casino-based 19 year old is teaching other youngsters to fly.

“I hope to head to Western Australia and fly in the tourism industry,” Phil said.

“One day I’d like to work for an airline, but there’s plenty of time.”

Despite Phil’s success at a young age, the club’s chief flying instructor, Bill Kiernan, said not too many youngsters were taking the same path. And the lack of new recruits could impact on the pilot shortage in Australia.

“We have 30 students here now, but only half a dozen or so are looking for a career in aviation,” Mr Kiernan said.

“I say to them, ‘flying’s great, but it’s not the be-all and end-all’.

“It’s one thing to fly an aeroplane, it’s another to operate an aeroplane.”

Mr Kiernan said many flying schools had a ‘get them in, take the money and get them out’ policy.
“It has become like a sausage factory. We have to make sure the standards don’t drop,” he said.

The Northern Rivers Aero Club trains the old-fashioned way – through hard work.

One of Mr Kiernan’s most enthusiastic students is 17-year-old Mitch Baker, who already has his recreational licence.

“I’ve been flying since February, 2007, and I’m already planning to do my commercial licence,” Mitch said.

But the time it takes to get a licence – and the cost – can deter a lot of youngsters from a career in aviation.

“After you get your recreational licence, you get your private licence,” Phil said.

“For most people that takes about a year.

“Then it’s another 150 hours to get your commercial licence. And it’s not cheap.”


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