Growth & Jobs | Young entrepreneurs launch Jamaica’s newest flight school
WHEN GARI Tomlinson and Christopher Gooding met and realised that their entrepreneurial dreams were aligned, they wasted no time in pooling their resources to make those dreams a reality through the establishment of the Aeronautical School of the West Indies (ASWI).
Gooding, who is director of maintenance at ASWI, tells JIS News how the two young men from different countries and backgrounds formed a partnership to establish the country’s newest flight school.
“From childhood, I decided that I would fix the plane and fly the plane. Coming from a humble background, I couldn’t afford flying, so I learned to fix the aircraft,” the Guyanese national explains.
“I was lucky to meet Mr Tomlinson, who wanted to start a flight school. I wanted to start the engineering school and we combined our efforts, so now I am going to be a student of the very school I created,” he beams.
Tomlinson explains that he fell in love with aviation some years ago by chance.
“Starting the school was born out of my love for two things, aviation and business, and, also, seeing that there was a scarcity in the market for quality training. It was also from me naively thinking at the time that this is something that I could take a shot at,” he says.
“By some kind of serendipity or good fortune, I met my business partner and immediately there was some business chemistry there. First and foremost, both of us had a passion for it, and then I felt he had the competence to do the business with me, so both of us put our minds together and came up with the idea to start the school,” Tomlinson, who is the school’s accountable manager, continued. The journey did not happen without its share of challenges.
“It was obstacle after obstacle after obstacle from day one. We were not being taken seriously. We couldn’t find any instructors, we couldn’t get any space on the airport, we couldn’t find a good aeroplane, and the Jamaica Civil Aviation Authority (JCAA) process was more difficult than we originally anticipated,” Tomlinson says.
Getting to the point of being certified as an approved training organisation by the JCAA, which they obtained in August, was the last stage in the approval process, “but through sheer perseverance, we’re here”.
The two-man team self-funded the entire venture and are grateful that they did not have to take a loan for the start-up. “Our pockets are empty. Over the last 30 months, we’ve spent hundreds of thousands of US dollars out of pocket. We honestly don’t know where the funds came from but it came; so I guess God is good, and this was meant to happen without funding from any institution, any loan. We have zero debt. We owe no one, so thank God for that,” the maintenance director says.
ONE MORE HURDLE
Tomlinson adds that finding an aircraft that met the requirements of the Jamaica Civil Aviation Authority was another issue that they had to consider.
The entrepreneurs purchased a plane and did some enhancements. They installed a new engine and a new propeller on the aircraft, repainted it, and upgraded to a more secure and a safer standard to meet the operation.
They were aware of the importance of finding the right aircraft for the right price, “so we ventured into the market and we selected the most economical trainer we could find. We got a Cessna 152, purpose-built for flight training; so being the most economical, it was the good choice”.
The school will have an intake of 10 students per cohort and this, the maintenance director explains, is based on classroom capacity, given COVID -19 restrictions and having just one aircraft. He points out that the training process is very tedious, but adds that with some effective organisation, the school should be able to increase the intake over time.
Tomlinson gives the assurance that ASWI has experienced instructors who are “quite capable of training the students, good guys in the industry that we’re lucky to have, so they are the ones that do the actual training of the students, and they have the passion for it, and they love it”.
Meanwhile, JCAA Director of Flight Safety Noel Ellis explains that in the aviation industry, everyone who needs to be certified must go through a five-phase process. That process involves proving to the JCAA, and to the industry, that they can perform their training in a safe and reliable manner. This, he says, is because once you get a Jamaican licence, that licence can take you anywhere in the world, “so we have to ensure that everyone follows international standards even if they’re just flying locally, because you can use that internationally”.
HAILED FOR BOLD STEP
The main process involved, the flight safety director explains, is their documentation. The institution, he says, “needs to document all of these things, and we need to check that documentation and ensure that it meets international standards”. He hails the entrepreneurs for their bold step, and points out that the aviation industry, globally, is short of personnel.
Ellis contends that Jamaica has some significant advantages, the first of which is that it is an English-speaking nation, and that an English-speaking pilot is a needed commodity all over the world.
He also asserts that with the country’s tropical climate yielding sunshine 95 per cent of the time, “it makes your flying experience a good one and you don’t have to lose flying hours because of temperate weather that’s not appropriate, so persons are actually looking around the world to see where they can go to pilot school, and Jamaica has that opportunity”.
He says that the country needs to tap into the market to try to curb the mass exodus of locals who are going overseas for their training. Furthermore, Jamaica should also welcome international students who may want to come to Jamaica and get their pilot’s licence.