Paula Williams: Just to get started, maybe you can tell us more about ab initio training. What does that even mean?
David Santo: Ab initio is a … I believe it’s a Latin word that stands for from the beginning. What we’re talking about here is how do we develop enough of future aviators, future pilots to meet the global demand. First, let’s talk for a second if I can about the global demand. The numbers that are being put out there by Boeing, they’ve been validated by Airbus industries, they’ve been validated by the US Accounting Office, they’ve appeared in front page news, periodicals like the Wall Street Journal and the USA Today. It talks about needing nearly a half a million new pilots in our industry over the next 20 years. Ab initio is an old concept but it’s a concept of we may have to start training pilots from zero time to get them qualified to be airline pilots because they’re not coming through the ranks organically, naturally fast enough on their own. Ab initio is a way to streamline the pipeline of people coming into the industry all the way into the front seats of the airliners.
Paula Williams: That makes perfect sense. In a sense that means taking people from their very first lesson. Maybe people who are … You’re looking for high school or community college graduates or anybody in particular? Are there any qualifications to start an ab initio? I know it says from the beginning but there has to be something at the beginning, right?
David Santo: That really is dependent on the airline and the individual. You really have two types of ab initios. You have the self-sponsored ab initio. This is somebody who is looking to start maybe fresh out of high school or somewhere in the early stages of college. Honestly, nowadays it could be anywhere in their career. We have a lot of people that get into aviation late as a second or third career but they make the conscientious decision that they’re pursuing aviation as a job, as a career field. Really, they are ab initio students. It’s how quickly they dedicate themselves to accomplishing that task and some people will use schools like Cochise College, FIT, the 141 schools. They’ll go there to accelerate either their education or their time building to get done quicker so they can get into the job market. The other type of ab initio is somebody who’s being sponsored by an airline. Lufthansa has done this for many, many years. Lufthansa hired nationals from Germany. They sent them over to Arizona and they sent them to flight school really with zero flight experience. Now there is an advantage to hiring somebody with zero flight experience for the airlines and that is that you screen them not on their skill, you screen them on their aptitude. You’re screening them on are they a good cultural fit to your organization and then you train them to be the airline pilot that you want them to be. There are some benefits there. United Airlines did this in the ‘60s. Due to the Vietnam War there just wasn’t enough pilots available and they had to recruit people. At that time, Paula Williams, they were using people with private pilot licenses as a prerequisite. It really depends on the airline whether it’s self-sponsored, whether it’s sponsored what that starting point is. The end game is still the same and that is creating a pipeline that is a clear beginning, a gateway, all the way through a career preparation and hopefully placement.
Paula Williams: That makes perfect sense. If I’m going into an ab initio program as a self-sponsored student just to get an idea of what I’m in for, what kind of time and money requirements are we looking at? I know we’re going to talk about this in more detail later but just to get a broad picture of what that would look like.
David Santo: Some of the programs that we’ve worked with can accomplish zero time all the way through the commercial multiengine instrument and a type rating within as little as 12 months. This is based on the student being full time, fully engaged in the ab initio course. If we go through that pipeline they would come into the program having been pre-screened. We’ve seen screening tools like COMPASS which are aptitude tests that help identify before you spend the money whether you have the right stuff, if you will, to make it through the program. Then they complete their private pilot license, they complete their instrument license, they complete their time building for their commercial, complete their commercial license, their multiengine. Then they come to AeroStar for that finishing school, if you will. We do jet transition training. We do the high altitude, high speed aerodynamics and theory training. We can do CRM. We can do the new ATP/CTP course which is a requirement for the ATP written. Ultimately, our final stage of training of the pipeline is completing the type rating or A320, B737 crew qualification training.