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A Warning to Prospective Airline Pilots

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Flight School Closes in St.Louis, Students Left on the Ground —

Erik the Pilot had one goal since I first met him in the second grade: to be a commercial airline pilot.

I met the guy who would later become my best friend as he read a book about Amelia Earnhardt in some elementary English class. I would be reading a book about Davy Crockett or Marco Polo under my desk and he would be reading about airplanes and airplane pilots.

Reading on the sly side by side as the teacher gave instruction on the boring nuances of grammar, Erik and I became fast friends.

I always wanted to read about airplanes too, but Erik the Pilot would check out all of the books on the subject on the first day of school and not return them for the entire year. Erik is the sort of guy who enjoys his monopolies, and he definitely had one on airplanes in our grade school: Erik was THE airplane kid.

Mississipi River by air

Mississipi River by air

But more than wanting to read books about airplanes, I wanted Erik the Pilot to think I was cool. So I pretended that I liked airplanes too, and we became friends.

I would go over to his house and he would make me play Top Gun with him. We would always argue over who was going to be Maverick, but I always knew that I would end up being lame ass Goose.

Our friendship always made each other feel alive.

After graduation from high school (well, I must admit, after I got kicked out) The Pilot and I sough other paths towards making ourselves feel alive. I began traveling, and he began planning on how to go to flight school.

Erik the Pilot was always the type of fellow who would wait for the fog to clear before walking down an open road, and he would never make a move through a storm with an adequate supply of gear and preparation. Where I was always prone to seek immediate gratification for my whims, Erik would prepare, ponder, and wait in order do everything the right way.

For eight years after graduation, Erik plotted and planed out a route to flight school, a way of making his dream transform itself into reality.

“Why don’t you just go?” I would ask.

“I don’t have the money.”

“Why don’t you get loans?”

“I don’t have a co-signer.”

I think I had this discussion with Erik hundreds of times over those eight years. But it was always to no avail: Erik would not make a move towards flight school until he had his finances lined up in a neat, orderly row.

But just as I began to view his dream as being a far off fallacy, Erik told me that he had enrolled in flight school and had the money. I suppose he just needed time for his seeds of possibility to germinate.

—————

Langa Air Flight School

Langa Air Flight School

Erik began flight school at Langa Air on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River near St. Louis. The school had a highly touted reputation as being an optimal place to receive flight training.

Upon commencing flight school at Langa Air, Erik estimated that it would take him one year to 18 months to finish his ratings and get into a training program at a commercial airline. For the first 6 months of his instruction Erik became a licensed pilot and literally flew through his ratings.

But then his inertia began to slip.

He found himself with little money and had to take on a full time job, he found himself lonely and took up a girlfriend. Jobs and women have ways of subverting a man’s attention towards their own purposes, and Erik soon found himself with obligations that extended beyond flying airplanes.

Though he continued to work steadily at his flight ratings, and he gained his hours at a steady pace. For two and a half years Erik the Pilot worked with a metronomic rhythm at his flight school training, work, and a relationship.

Last week Erik the Pilot passed the written portion of his commercial pilot’s licenses. He now only needed to take his check ride to become a full fledged commercial pilot, ready to move onto the next phase of his training.

One check ride stood in his way from graduating from flight school. This ride was scheduled for today, Wednesday, September 9, 2009.

But Erik the Pilot will not be flying on this day.

Instead he will be visiting a lawyer.

———————

Last week, Erik walked up to his flight school on a day that appeared to be like any other. But rather than finding his instructors, other students, and airplanes, he only found the doors locked and the following note posted ominously upon a window.

To Students and Customers:

As you know, we are all in an economic crisis. Having been in the business of aviation for over 20 years, we have seen “hard times” when we had to lay off employees, cut wages, and reduce expenses. We have seen times with increased fuel costs, increasing insurance rates, and even an extended period following 9/11 when we were unable to train for nearly one month due to the closure of airspace. Despite those hard times, we always found a way to survive and pull through. But, we are in unparalleled times.

The owner of Langa Air, Inc. has gone to great lengths to survive this unprecedented crisis. He has sacrificed his income, financial health and retirement to infuse Langa Air, Inc. with cash to sustain operations. Some employees even agreed to a wage reduction recently to ensure all of those who do business with Langa Air, Inc. would continue to do so. Despite these efforts, the economy, together with the inability to secure operating loans, Langa Air, Inc. has no alternatives remaining.

It is with profound sadness that we are closing the doors to Langa Air, Inc. and terminating business effective September 1, 2009. Unfortunately, there will be no remaining employees, including flight instructors, mechanics, and flight line personnel, to provide support for use of training aircraft. As a result, you will not be able to presently train with Langa Air.

Erik the Pilot was a few days too late. His flight school had closed down over night without any sign or warning. The students and instructors showed up to the flight school on that ominous morning only to find that it had flown by night and closed its doors.

The school also offered no explanation to the students beyond the note on the door.They are saying nothing.

The students stand to lose everything. All of their training, money, and time hangs perilously in flux. Financing for flight school does not work like a university — you do not pay by the semester, but, rather, you pay everything up front.

Erik took out enough loans to cover the cost of his training, and this money went straight to Langa Air.

There is no telling if he will receive any of it back.

Also FAA regulations have different classes of flight training. Training at flight schools falls under category 141, and part of this provisions states that if a student transfers schools their hours will be cut by 50%.

So Erik the Pilot cannot just transfer to another school, as his 120 flight hours would be dropped to a mere 60 to meet regulations. He had already visited another school and inquired if he could just take his commercial check ride with them.

Their answer was simple: they cannot bend the rules, Erik’s hours would be cut in half.

Erik the Pilot just needs one check ride, one final trial before he receives his commercial pilot’s license. He had passed the written exam, he just needs to go up in an airplane at Langa Air one last . . .

No.

The school is closed. Erik must start the game again from the middle of the board. In this colossal game of chutes and ladders Erik the Pilot was sent down the slide that sits right before the finish line. He must now work his way back up along the same trail that he just trod.

“What now?” I asked him.

“I don’t know, maybe the National Guard.”

This is America. Dreams are given lift easily here, but they are also dropped to the ground with vicious haste. This is a country where it is very possible for a person to rise from the bottom to the top, but this rise is always conditional: as it is always easy to fall back down to the bottom again. Few things are for keeps in America.

The moral of the story:

Never slow down on the pursuit of your dreams, as the doors that stand wide open today may be sealed shut tomorrow . . . with only a note to tell you that you need to start all over again.

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Filed under: Air Travel

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 76 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3048 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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