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Andrew Lucas and Jonathan Kordich had no lack of ambition when they created FlightPath International, an elite aviation training and airline support company, in the small Ontario town of Alliston in 2003.
They wanted to compete directly with the industry’s major players, but with an initial staff of just three people, they knew they had to take their time and find a niche.
“We couldn’t do it overnight,” said Lucas, a former U.S. Army helicopter pilot who serves as FlightPath’s president and CEO.
“The only way you can compete is to give operators the quality they expect to get from the big players, but without having to pay that same price, or be able to provide training in the client’s base of operations.”
That unique approach has paid off.
As FlightPath celebrates its 15th anniversary this year, it boasts a portfolio of more than 150 airline operators from around the world and an employee base of more than 100.
The company’s initial focus on training pilots in developing countries has expanded to include training for maintenance technicians, flight attendants and dispatchers.
FlightPath also has an exclusive agreement with Bombardier to deliver factory training on its CRJ Series aircraft and their business jet variants.
“Most of our customers have come to us, not the other way around,” said Lucas.
“Even organizations such as Transport Canada flight operations–they came to us and said, ‘We want to talk to you about training.” I believe that’s because they saw quality, they saw steady growth–not just a flash in the pan.”
FlightPath is one of Air Canada’s major training providers, attributed to the solid base of seasoned and experienced instructors that come from an airline training background.
The company is also partnering with a Malta-based flight college for a new academic training centre that is expected to open in the island nation this year.
But FlightPath’s greatest expansion over the past few years has been in maintenance training, said Lucas. He noted the company trains maintenance technicians on all major fleet types from Boeing, Airbus, Bombardier and Embraer.
“There are other training companies that may have developed a multitude of courses available for numerous different airplane types, but simply having a portfolio of courses doesn’t mean you have the structure to sustain them,” he added.
FlightPath has more than 400 courses for various aircraft types, all of which have been built due to customer demand, he said
“We never invest in course development unless we have a customer to deliver it to.”
Technology has changed a great deal in the last 15 years, and FlightPath has adapted its training programs to appeal to younger, tech-savvy students.
“The twist is, technology cannot replace a seasoned professional standing in front of a class,” said Lucas. “And that, I think, is the disconnect in today’s aviation training.”
While an e-learning environment can be effective for rote memorization, Lucas said it doesn’t lead to correlative learning–making connections between various pieces of knowledge to solve real-world problems.
“When you have an experienced instructor that participates and is part of that new technology, the level of learning of a young pilot is exponentially better,” said Lucas.
“FlightPath is not minimizing the instructor-led component of our training. Other companies have trended that way due to staffing costs and wanting to move toward a more computer-based training philosophy.
“But we maintain that instructor-led training should not be compromised for expediency and is a vital component to be employed along with the new technologies.
“I sleep well at night knowing the people we give certificates to are getting what they need to be safe in that cockpit and proficient in the hanger.”
A global shortage of pilots and aircraft maintenance engineers (AMEs) has led to an increased demand for training.
Lucas acknowledged this has been good for business, but said he worries that standards may erode as other training companies with less-experienced instructors try to push students through the systems.
“The reduction of criteria for qualification and perhaps a reduction of quality because of cost, is an issue,” he said. “That’s not just in Canada. That’s globally, which is a challenge–a real challenge.”
A majority of FlightPath instructors are senior aviation professionals, he said, with recent experience on the aircraft types they train students to fly and maintain.
“We really have never had an issue getting that caliber of people. They know about FlightPath and they seek us out ” said Lucas.
“A common thread is, they’re getting back to what they love to do, and that’s training young people in aviation. “Whether it’s pilot or maintenance, it’s what they love to do.”
FlightPath has a long list of achievements, but the one that stands out for Lucas is the company’s ability to hire so many Canadians.
“For a few guys and a contractor to now have a base of over 100 people on payroll, and be able to support families with health care benefits–that’s a Canadian success story,” he said. “That’s our greatest accomplishment.”
He also cited the fact that Bombardier sought out FlightPath for a training partnership, rather than going with larger training providers.
“For a small Canadian company, that’s an achievement,” he said. “And that’s not because of myself or my partners, but rather what we stand for and what we do”.
As FlightPath moves into the next phase in its history, the company is still focused on the steady, customer-driven growth that has guided its first 15 years.
Several airlines have approached the company to effectively become an in-house training provider, said Lucas.
“That’s really been the growing trend,” he added. “And we have several operators we are now working with in that capacity.”
Another key strategy is making strong alliances with other training organizations.
“I’ve come to realize that no one company can be everything to anybody,” said Lucas.
“Some of the larger operators and trainers, they want to do everything and take the world. That just doesn’t happen today. You can’t meet the demand.”
Lucas noted numerous alliances that FlightPath has throughout the world. One of note is with a company in Latvia that represents FlightPath for training in Russia and other parts of Eastern Europe.
“In like fashion, they bring FlightPath in to train for them to support their English speaking operators,” said Lucas. “It’s a really nice alliance that benefits everyone and makes it more of a global family, rather than being a closed society.”
Through it all, FlightPath remains fiercely proud of its Canadian roots.
“We wave our Canadian flag globally,” said Lucas. “We’re just proud to be Canadians with such a great success story.
“That’s who we are, and I think people respect and appreciate that.”