AeroDynamic Aviation co-owner Jen Delp-Mallet stands beside a Cessna 172 used for flight instruction in Monterey.
(David Royal - Monterey Herald)
MONTEREY >> A new airplane school has opened in Monterey and airport officials hope it can fill a void left for years.
AeroDynamic Aviation, a San Jose-based company, opened a local branch in August at the Monterey Regional Airport.
The airport had been without a flight school for about three years when Monterey Bay Aviation closed.
"We're cautiously excited about it," said airport general manager Tom Greer.
It is difficult to make money as a flight school but Greer hopes recent headlines can make a difference.
Boeing forecasted two months ago that more than half a million new commercial pilots would be needed in the next 20 years as reports increase over pilot shortages.
In charge in Monterey is Jen Delp-Mallet, a co-owner of AeroDynamic, and, at 34 years old, has already had a colorful career. She started roughly a decade ago as a commercial and private jet pilot.
She eventually turned to instruction when she started a family and hasn't looked back.
"It's the world's best office," she said.
The Monterey school has three fixed-wing planes, a Cessna, Decathlon and Citabria. It costs $120 to rent for an hour, which includes fuel, taxes and insurance. It costs an extra $60 an hour for instruction.
AeroDynamic has four instructors and three people who work in the office near the long-term parking at the airport.
On Aug. 27, Delp-Mallet took Matt Fritsch, an anesthesiologist at Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula, out on his second lesson in a Cessna 182 the doctor owns with three others.
Over the loud propeller, Delp-Mallet used her headset and microphone to tell Fritsch what to tell the air tower, levers to pull and reminds him to check a variety of gauges.
"The most important thing in aviation is the next two things," she said.
Just minutes after a fairly smooth takeoff, the plane is about 3,000 feet above Monterey Bay.
The sun darted through the windows of the Cessna as Fritsch turned the plane toward Salinas Valley.
On the day's agenda was practicing "ground reference maneuvers," which was basically spinning around in circles as people in the back seat try not to throw up.
Fritsch is getting his license for personal use but it comes at a time there has been growing talk of a pilot shortage, caused by a large amount of pilots retiring, strict FAA in-air training requirements and terrible wages.
The average starting salary for a pilot at 14 U.S. regional airlines is $21,285 a year, according to the world's largest pilots union, the Air Line Pilots Association, or ALPA.
Delp-Mallet said the first few years are the most difficult financially, but eventually pay starts to increase.
She said airlines are not the only option, pointing to jobs transporting cargo, skydivers or corporate clients.
AeroDynamic instructor Ron Gaasch said being a pilot is a hard career to walk away from.
"It's a world you fall in love with," he said.
Once AeroDynamic gets more established in Monterey, it anticipates about half of its business to come from instruction, 30 percent from rentals and 20 percent from air tours.
The company's main school is at the Reid-Hillview Airport in San Jose and has a satellite operation at Salinas Municipal Airport.
The Monterey airport's two commercial flight operators, Del Monte Aviation and Monterey Jet Center, have in their leases a requirement to have a flight school, but have an out if it is not "economically viable," Greer said.
The last heyday of local flight schools was more than 20 years ago when Fort Ord was still open and the G.I. Bill paid for the civilian training, Greer said.
He said he hoped pilot demand could keep the school open, as well as from local college students.
"We're trying to give people who have the inclination, that want to learn to fly, give them the opportunity to do that and do that here in Monterey," Greer said.
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