Once-struggling South Florida flight schools are seeing the largest influx of foreign students since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, the result of a severe shortage of airline pilots worldwide.
The students can more easily enroll because the
This year, more than 1,000 foreign nationals are enrolled at about 30 flight schools between
In the wake of the Sept. 11th attacks, about 500 flight schools nationwide, including about 50 in Florida, closed down, done in by a soft economy and tight federal scrutiny on foreign students. Many of the 9-11 hijackers received basic training in South Florida and on the state's west coast.
“9-11 killed general aviation, so we really had to start thinking outside the box in terms of how we would attract students,” said Andrew Henley, director of American Flyers, a flight school at
According to a study by
Foreign carriers already are hiring flight crews in large numbers, and 55,000 foreign nationals are receiving training at U.S. flight schools this year, according to the TSA.
"We perform a thorough background check to include terrorism watch list matching, a criminal history check and an immigration status check," said agency spokeswoman Sari Koshetz.
Pelican Flight Training, a school at North Perry Airport in
Matiss Veiss, 20, of Latvia, plans to fly a commuter airliner for airBalticcq. After arriving in South Florida in September with no flying experience, he hopes to obtain his airline transport pilot rating by July.
Veiss said training in South Florida gave him the best opportunity to land an airline job.
"We don't have this level of flight school in Latvia," he said, adding, "the weather is good for flying most of the time."
Although Pelican is happy to accept people who want to fly just for fun, the business now depends heavily on airline-oriented students, owner Terry Fensome said.
"We just had go out and do something more," he said.
American Flyers will open a training operation in Amsterdam on March 1 as a means to attract students from all of Europe. It also has a training facility in
"What we're seeing more than anything else is career students who want to go on to the airlines," Henley said.
At Palm Beach Flight Training in
"We have a nice mix," she said.
Not all of the area’s flight schools count on foreign students to boost business.