By Mike Mangano
Learning to Fly: Inside Sydney’s Premier Flying College
The avenue to an aviation career is a road well-traveled, and for many, the destination is a dream fulfilled. Yet, if one was asked just how that dream can be made a reality, the road can suddenly seem anything but a yellow-brick road to the land of Oz.
AirlineGeeks visited one of Sydney’s – and Australia’s – most successful commercial flying schools, Sydney Flight College, to learn about the path, and how the school keeps itself up to date in a new era of flight.
Sydney Flight College, SFC as it is more commonly known, has a rich history in Australian aviation. Established in 1969, the not-for-profit college has been playing its part in expanding the aviation industry through the joy of flight, and its clubhouse and training facilities give evidence of that. AirlineGeeks started with a visit to these facilities and, specifically, the simulator.
After receiving a brief introduction, it fell to this writer to try some circuits over Sydney in the school’s Boeing 737-800 simulator. No stranger to the joys – and fatigue – of circuits, it was of great surprise to learn that rudder input was not required for a coordinated turn. More surprising yet, this writer managed to land the 737 without incident – credit is necessary for SFC 737 Simulator Manager Khalie Jensen, a former Cathay Pacific and Virgin Australia second officer.
Of course, a modern flight school is not a school at all unless its fleet is, well, modern. SFC impresses further in this field. Although the college owns an array of steam-gauge Piper Warriors and Archers, jaws drop and drool over the new Piper Archer TXs, Cessna 182T Skylane and the Diamond DA42.
Industry training is typically governed by principles that ensure the training is current and relevant to industry, and this fleet ensures SFC is keeping up to date with the industry. SFC’s Archer TX features a full glass cockpit and air conditioning (try flying in an Aussie summer without it) and is a delightfully stable trainer. The school’s DA42, apart from feeling like one is seated in an F-18 Hornet with its control stick centered between the pilot’s legs (calm down, Maverick), also offers a full glass cockpit, satisfying the current and relevant training principles.
While one avenue to becoming a career pilot is through the small funnel of airline cadetships, one would be seriously mistaken to write-off the importance of general aviation in the airline sector. SFC’s CMO Raymond Toutounji took AirlineGeeks on a tour of the commercial career journey, starting with general aviation (GA).
Just as training wheels are a first step in learning to ride a bicycle, GA is the foundation on which all commercial aviation is built. SFC understands this fundamental truth well, using their flying club history and experience in their students’ favor to build a community that builds and encourages the prospective pilot.
For the pilot who so desires, SFC delivers full-time training, a journey composed of several elements. The first 12 months are comprised of 165 flying hours of training, culminating in a Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL) – the minimum requirement to fly commercially in Australia – opening the door to a career in flying.
The next element involves another four months of training, during which 38 flying hours and further study lead to a Multi-Engine Instrument Rating, or MECIR. This rating builds a platform from which a student can leap into either charter pilot work or a Flight Instructor Rating, both of which allow a build-up of more hours – all the while being paid (well, the instructor after receiving the rating) – so as to reach the requirements needed to begin work in the airline industry.
As the college moves with the times, it was pleasing to see how seriously SFC views the success of all their students – particularly female pilots and indigenous groups – by providing both scholarships and support groups to inspire and assist students. Worldwide, female pilots make up approximately five percent of all pilots, a statistic the school aims to increase drastically. It was admirable to see just how intent SFC is on removing as many barriers as possible for as much success as possible.
As Australia’s aviation sector grows into the future, SFC will adapt to meet new needs. For the reader acquainted with aviation’s pilot deficiency, it is of no surprise that one of the greatest challenges will be to fill that void. It is this void that SFC will continue to address as it plans on expanding beyond the Sydney region into regional New South Wales.
Utilizing the vacated premises of older schools, SFC will be expanding operations to the regional New South Wales city of Tamworth – affectionately known as the Country Music Capital of Australia. The expansion, expected sometime in 2023, will play a key role in supporting international growth in aviation as the school also aims to take on international students, taking advantage of Tamworth’s low-density airspace.
SFC’s expansion plans appear well-timed, as Sydney’s newest airport will affect changes in the city’s training areas. In a bitter-sweet move, the new Western Sydney Airport brings both new opportunities for the aviation sector while wiping out a large swathe of the popular training area.
Currently, Sydney’s airspace can loosely be divided into three zones of class C, D, and G from east to west respectively. With the opening of Western Sydney planned for 2026, this class G will transition to C – far from the idyllic G airspace where the student pilot’s mistakes can be more easily forgiven.
As the future slowly reveals its uncertain hand, SFC’s Tamworth location will provide a secure location, free from the effects of Sydney’s changing aviation landscape, as well as provide a genuine Australian experience for the student who dares travel to the land down under.
Make no mistake – the journey to a successful career in aviation has its obstacles – but success is a real possibility. As an instructor, this writer can appreciate that a student requires more than just a ‘teacher.’ The learner needs, and deserves, a proverbial ‘yellow-brick road’ of support and friendship from which success is attained.
AirlineGeeks’ visit to Sydney Flying College revealed much about this journey; if it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a club to make a pilot. With an atmosphere of warmth and scenery of smiles, SFC is playing a key role in shaping, supporting, and building Australia’s – and the world’s – pilots.