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Taiwan pilot school eyeing big role in Asia's aviation sector

2018/09/25 17:37:54

CNA file photo

Taipei, Sept. 25 (CNA) Apex Flight Academy, Taiwan's only flight training school, has flown under the radar in its first few years in existence, but it is now eager to boost its profile and become a leading pilot training center in Asia.

With Apex celebrating its fourth anniversary this month, its founder and managing director Wilson Kao (高健祐) said Monday the school hopes to strengthen Taiwan's ability to train pilots to create job opportunities and avoid over-dependence on foreign pilots.

The strategy would not only ensure Taiwan has an adequate aviation workforce of the future amid a global pilot shortage but also elevate Taiwan's profile over the long term in Asia's aviation sector, Kao said.

Apex's focus is not surprising given Asia's booming travel and aviation market.

A Boeing report issued last month said the Asia-Pacific region is the part of the world that will need the greatest number of pilots, technicians and cabin crew members over the next 20 years, with an estimated 240,000 more pilots needed by 2037.

Taiwan itself will need about 300 new pilots a year in the future as Taiwanese carriers see growth in both their passenger and cargo businesses, Kao said.

"In line with the global demand for pilots, Apex plans to expand its reach to other Asian countries, helping Taiwan become known as a hub for developing flight talent," Kao said.

For instance, Apex was recently certified by the aviation authority of Cambodia (SCAA) as one of the flight schools qualified to train pilots for the country.

But Apex's ambitions face considerable obstacles. Among them is the preference among people interesting in obtaining a private or commercial pilot license they can use to apply for jobs to get their training overseas.

At present, about 250 to 300 such Taiwanese receive flight training abroad every year, compared to about 50 who work with Apex, which has the capacity to train around 120 students a year.

Also, few people even know Taiwan has its own flight training school, Kao said, which is why he is intent on boosting the academy's profile and recognition to attract more students from both Taiwan and outside the country.

One way Apex intends to build up its credibility is by developing more international partnerships.

The school, for example, will soon be the only East Asian flight training base of France's Ecole Nationale de l'Aviation Civile, and it will provide more training certified by the European Aviation Safety Agency.

The strategy also involves nurturing a staff of 12 international trainers from countries such as Japan, the United States, and Germany.

The company, which is headquartered in Taipei and has its main training base in Taitung County, has also set up a training center in Georgetown, Texas in case students still insist on being trained overseas.

Bad Timing

Apex's growth was complicated by the unfortunate timing of its founding.

It started its operations at a relatively difficult time for Taiwan's aviation sector, with TransAsia Airways and its subsidiary V Air shutting down in 2016, dampening the industry's momentum and reducing demand for pilots, Kao said.

"Students withdrew from the school one after the other," he recalled.

But Apex can now think of expansion because the situation has improved considerably in recent years, and especially this year, thanks to the establishment of a new carrier known as StarLux being founded by former EVA Air Chairman Chang Kuo-wei (張國煒), Kao said.

That has driven student numbers up 10 percent in 2018 from a year earlier, according to the school.

With the aviation sector again gaining steam, Apex has also been commissioned by smaller domestic airlines -- Tigerair Taiwan and Mandarin Airlines -- to train 12-16 pilots for them each year beyond its core group of 50 students not associated with any carrier.

Apex believes signing training contracts with local airlines will bolster its market recognition.

"We are trying to re-educate the market so people know that flight schools in Taiwan can be as good as those overseas," Kao said.

(By Lee Hsin-Yin)
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