Aviation & Aerospace Awards 2023

Flight School of the Year - USA Women and people of colour make up less than 10% of the aviation industry, but it has become clear that diversity of background is a strength to any sector. For the team at Flex Air, the priority is to reach out to anybody and everybody who aspires to work in the aviation industry, and provide them with the training they need to thrive in a competitive marketplace. The aviation industry is currently entering a potential period of crisis. More pilots than ever before are needed to fill an increasing number of vacancies. With many retiring and few entering the workforce, hundreds of thousands of new pilots will be hired over the next five years. But where they come from is another question. We asked Paul Wynns what challenges the sector is currently facing. “After decades of under-investment, the flight school industry can’t keep up with demand,” he tells us. “8 out of 10 students drop out of training. The aircraft we ask these earlycareer men and women to fly were designed 50 years ago by engineers with slide rules. They’re the #1 source of airborne lead pollution. And we ask students and instructors to fly in these planes up to 8 hours every training day. But worst of all is the diversity gap. Minorities represent less than 10% of the airline pilot population.” Despite these difficulties, circumstances for pilots have never been better. Entry-level pay has jumped by 70% in one year, whilst salaries are up by 50% in 2019 in spite of a historically tight labour market. Aviation is an industry where people can flourish, if only it can reach out to new people. “Flex Air addresses these challenges by focusing on partnerships with community and industry organisations that connect all interested students with the resources and mentorship they need to launch an airline career,” Paul explains. “We are a Platinum Scholarship Partner with the National Gay Pilots Association, support career education events for the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, and have partnered with high schools to reach underserved youth populations.” This commitment to reaching out to all areas of the population also applies to the leadership team at Flex Air. “Our founding team includes a serial entrepreneur who is a senior airline pilot and leader in the National Gay Pilots Association, and I’m a veteran Navy flight instructor and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation,” Paul says. “Our world-class advisory board features members who have been lauded by the Smithsonian Museum’s Women’s Futures exhibit, Women in Aviation International, the Kansas and Colorado State Aviation Halls of Fame, and the National Science Foundation.” It’s this breadth of knowledge, experience and background that has guided many of the methods which the Flex Air team have adopted. It’s little wonder that the flight school experience for those at Flex Air is not like any other in the aviation industry. “We provide coaching and career advocacy in our One Crewmentorship system,” Paul explains. “All lessons are conducted in a 1-on-1 or small group environment with a dedicated flight instructor and dedicated career mentor.” This focus on individuals has brought the team immense success. In a sector where the overall dropout rate for student pilots is currently at 80%, Flex Air is looking to change how the industry as a whole sees pilots. To recognise success in training, it’s important not only to look at grades but where students end up afterwards. The team at Flex Air have made it their mission to connect individuals and families with highly paid and respected careers as commercial pilots. With career outcomes that are 350% better than the industry average, they have been justly recognised in the Aviation and Aerospace Awards 2023. We caught up with Paul Wynns find out more. “Our One Crew training system offers mentorship and networking opportunities for all students at all levels of training,” Paul tells us. “Our goal is to create a pilot community that’s representative of the diverse world we live in, one that can reap the many benefits that diversity will bring as we enter the second century of aviation.” The growth of a community which is forward looking and inspirational, encompassing a broad range of backgrounds, is certain to have a transformational effect on those who come into contact with it. Of course, training the next generation is not purely a social issue, and the Flex Air team have embraced the latest technology to make the process as straightforward as possible for their students. “Flight training is a crucial part of becoming a pilot,” Paul says, “and it can be a time-consuming and complex process. One way Flex Air makes it more efficient and effective is by using automated scheduling. This involves using AI/ML technology to manage and coordinate flight training activities, from scheduling flights and instructors to tracking progress and ensuring compliance with regulations.” These automated schedules can save significant time and effort, allowing flight training to be completed more swiftly and opening the door to pilots becoming certified and starting their careers sooner. Looking ahead, the team are partnering with academic and industry partners to try new ways of educating potential pilots. Gamified training, VI/AR and emerging EdTech tools that focus on the non-regulated parts of the student training experience are all being considered. “This allows us to make every minute of aircraft or simulator time more efficient, without limiting our innovation timeline to the FAA approval process,” Paul explains. It’s this considered approach which has allowed the team to train so many pilots to such an astonishingly high standard. We wondered what the future holds for Flex Air, and Paul was happy to explain why sustainability is one of the watchwords of the team currently. “Most training aircraft were designed and manufactured between 1960 and 1983,” he tells us. “Our students, instructors, and airline partners deserve a better and more environmentally responsible training experience than what these outdated planes can deliver. They should be insulated from the cost fluctuations of an uncertain avgas supply chain. Training tempo needs to increase to match the intense demand for new airline pilots. This means we need aircraft that are more reliable and efficient than old piston trainers. So we’ve committed to electrifying our entire primary trainer pipeline, and our new aircraft will enter service by 2025.” With a holistic approach to the aviation industry, and the training of those who bring it to life, it’s little wonder that Flex Air has achieved such remarkable acclaim. We celebrate the success of this diverse, dynamic team and cannot wait to see what they do next! Company: Flex Air Name: Paul Wynns Email: [email protected] Web Address: goflexair.com