Whanganui's new commercial pilot training school could more than double in size and with that in mind its soon-to-be built headquarters will be flexible enough to handle any expansion.

Phil Bedford, NZ International Commercial Pilot Academy chief executive, told the Chronicle that there were 40 trainee pilots in the school at the moment "but there's no reason we couldn't be training 100 in the future".

Whanganui District Council Holdings Ltd, which manages the council's commercial assets and manages its investments, bought Feilding-based Flight Training Manawatu in October last year with the aim of relocating the school to Whanganui's airport.

Now that move has taken a significant step forward with tenders being let for the design and build of a new hangar facility at the airport.


Mr Bedford said they expected that job to be completed early in the New Year when the academy would relocate to Whanganui.

"Our goal was always to develop a world-class facility and we've got a real opportunity to do that when we move to Whanganui," he said.

He said the new 40m x 30m hangar will accommodate up to 14 aircraft but also include ancillary rooms for classes and the corporate side of the school.

He said the building was basically designed in three zones - the corporate headquarters, lecture areas with three classrooms and a main air operations centre.

"We're building it to replicate a working airline centre to give the students the mindset from the time they arrive that they are working in the airline industry," Mr Bedford said.

"The focus is on the pilot as a person so they realise they are here as professionals from day one."

The academy will have five permanent staff and about 15 contracted instructors but he said increasing the student intake would mean almost doubling the number of instructors the school would need.

The new facility will go up between the MELTech Automation building and the Defence Force land at Landguard Bluff at the Whanganui River end of the airport.

Matt Doyle, chairman of Whanganui District Council Holdings Ltd, said the flight academy was bought with a view to building the airport's viability and securing what is regarded as key strategic asset for the district.

Mr Doyle said the airport was not meeting its costs "and as a result is a constant cost to the ratepayers".

"The growth of business such as the flight academy, both in terms of lease and landing fee income at the airport, will go a long way to reducing this cost and assist in sustaining the airport into the future."

The academy relies on recruiting students from international markets. At the moment half the roll is made up of Indians with other students from Papua New Guinea and Tahiti. And there were opportunities to attract students from South East Asia, China and the Pacific.