SOUTHERN CAPE NEWS - The flight training academies in George and Oudtshoorn annually train 160 pilots using the very best flight instructors, top of the range equipment and the latest aircraft.
The current intake of cadets is 80 for Oudtshoorn and 80 for George per year, but it is foreseen that it will increase to 400 per year by 2015, spread over 5 bases in the South Western Cape. By 2017 the investment by the holding company, AVIC-International Flight Training Academy (Pty) Limited (AIFA), is expected to reach R400-million.
One of the first things young Chinese cadets at AIFA are introduced to is a traditional South African braai and all its customary hospitality intricacies. This is because the CEO Willem Marais believes that the cadets must become fully integrated into South Africa, its customs and traditions to feel at home.
AIFA has currently two Flight Training Academies - one in George (the first to be established) and one in Oudtshoorn, with a third to be established in the South Western Cape in the near future.
At the cadets' living quarters (rented homes in George and Oudtshoorn), the students are made to feel at home with a boarding school mother or father, a cook and cleaning staff in attendance. Because their flight training course is so intensive and all-consuming (56 weeks) cadets need to focus on home study work without any distractions.
In their holidays they are taken on outings to nearby attractions along the Garden Route. Highlights are outings over weekends to the beach and to the Garden Route Mall. Cycling and road running are some of the physical activities in George, and in Oudtshoorn a basketball court was built at a local school, where cadets and school kids can enjoy joint games. A court is to be built in George for the same purpose.
Marais, a former SA Airforce pilot with a passion for flying, is thrilled to be creating a pocket of excellence, where precision and a proud training tradition is being maintained: "We are the only flight training academy with international accreditation (with ATO) in South Africa, with facilities that include the latest technology, simulators, and a fleet of aircraft that has Piper Warriors and Cessna 172s."
Academy staff members were mostly recruited from George and environs, with the exception of Marais, who was only too glad to exchange his Midrand living for the Garden Route. "I have spent a lot of time in Oudtshoorn to get the Academy up and running, but never gave up my George office. Where else will you get this sort of view?" he asked, nodding in the direction of his window which faces the George Airport runway.
Marais is not the only former SA Airforce pilot. Tobie du Toit who heads training also has a wealth of experience with the Airforce as well as Cassie Nel, Base Manager (also an Airforce pilot). The rest of the team comprises of Buks Hugo, Chief Flying Instructor and Westley Blom, Deputy Chief Flying Instructor. Between them, the team has several decades of flying experience including flying fixed wings and helicopters.
Refilwe Ledwaba (left), a qualified helicopter pilot with the SAPS is currently getting flying instruction from Claire Wienand AIFA flight instructor.
ARTICLE: PAULINE LOURENS, GEORGE HERALD JOURNALIST