Delta Connection Academy
A flight school looks abroad for a boost back home
Chinese student Lixin Guo and Delta Connection Academy instructor Jesse Allen
With a new owner and new managers, a flight school in Sanford is looking to the Far East to reverse declining enrollment, accepting about 100 students from China this year and taking up to another 150 in the coming year.
Delta Connection Academy recruited about 50 of the students from Civil Aviation Flight University of China, a 50-year-old college based in Guanghan City in the Sichuan Province. At the campus at Orlando Sanford International Airport, they’ll study for 11 months, taking immersion courses in English, the language required of pilots worldwide by the International Civil Aviation Organization.
Paul Woessner, brought in earlier this year as the academy’s senior vice president, says China needs 2,000 new pilots every year for its growing commercial airline industry. The academy has placed students with more than 30 airlines, including Xiamen and Cathay Pacific. Students learn to fly Boeing 737s and Airbus A320s from the academy’s 150 instructors, who work with 96 aircraft and training devices.
Founded in 1989 by Comair, a regional airline, the academy has seen its enrollment fall in recent years from a high of more than 500 students at its Sanford campus alone to about 250. Today, the academy has a total of 450 students throughout its system, which includes partnerships with Jacksonville University and Broward College in Florida and San Jacinto College in Texas.
Woessner, who previously worked at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach and at Boeing, says a lack of federal student loan money for pilot training — which can cost up to $75,000 — has hurt. He’s also concerned about proposed federal legislation that he says would make it more difficult for pilots to become certified.
The academy expects to benefit from its relationship with Aerosim Technologies, a Minnesota company that designs and manufactures pilot training simulator technology and sells it all over the world. Both the academy and Aerosim were acquired in January by Flight Training Acquisitions, a group of aviation and private equity professionals. The combined company projects $40 million in sales this year.