Northlanders aspiring to become airline pilots need not go far with the opening of a fully-fledged flying school in Whangārei.
Tauranga-based domestic carrier Sunair is obtaining the necessary regulatory approval for the school, to be based at the old aero club in Onerahi, where the company already has an office.
Sunair has a contract with the Northland District Health Board to fly medical personnel from Whangārei to Kaitaia and back every day.
Based on public demand, its six-seater planes also operate between Whangārei, Great Barrier Island, Hamilton and Tauranga.
Director Bev Power said the company hoped to have the flight training school in Whangārei up and running in four to six weeks.
"The only flight training school at present for the people of Northland is in Auckland. We felt there was a possibility for something like that in Northland.
"We've got flight instructors and have done a bit of research around high schools, and the feedback we've received is people are keen," she said.
The school will offer private as well as commercial pilots' courses.
Sunair has a similar school based at the Tauranga Aero Club which high school students attend to get a head start in flying.
Power said two flight instructors were in Whangārei and the company had the ability to send more if needed.
Sunair will use its four-seater Cessna 172 planes in the new flight training school which will initially cater for 10 people.
There was such a massive shortage of pilots worldwide that airlines were training people in the field, Power said.
"When we started the company, we could hold pilots for two to four years abut now they are gone in one year. The shortage of pilots is due to an expansion of airlines.
"Qatar Airways, for example, is adding something like 30 places to its fleet every year and then you see the number of airlines flying to and from Asia, particularly China these days."
Power said there was an investment in becoming an airline pilot but the rewards were great.
The estimated cost of obtaining a private pilot licence with Sunair would be about $12,000 and there may be additional fees for medicals, exams and Civil Aviation Authority charges.
The cost includes about 60 hours of flying time.
To advance to a commercial pilot licence with an additional 140 hours' flight time, the approximate cost is $28,000.
Each course will take three months for a full-time student to finish.
"While, with full time study, each licence may take as little as three months, it is suggested that it can take around two years to gain all the qualifications to be ready for an airline to snaffle you up," Power said.
People can register their interest in any of the courses by calling Sunair on 07 575 7799.