The Modesto Airport has a new flight school with ambitious plans to train pilots from overseas.
Hummingbird Aviation had been on a month-to-month lease since August until the City Council approved last month five-year leases for Hangar 4S and Building No. 1. Chief pilot and co-owner Martin M. Campbell said the school has had just nine students since opening, but added that he and co-owners Steven E. Wilber and Lonnie L. Baptista expect that to change soon.
Campbell said Hummingbird is in the process of getting federal approval to train foreign students. He expects that will be completed within a few months, and then the flight school will bid for contracts with foreign airlines to train student pilots. He said they will target airlines in China, Japan, India, Taiwan and Mongolia and anticipate training as many as 40 students a year. Hummingbird owns two planes and has access to a third but plans on purchasing more aircraft.
That’s a model that the Sierra Academy of Aeronautics has pursued since its founding in 1964 in Oakland. The flight school now is based at Castle Airport in Atwater. “In our 52 years of operation we have trained thousands of pilots from countries all over the world. For 13 years we have served as an exclusive provider of cadet training for Korean Airlines,” the academy states on its website.
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Campbell said Hummingbird would like to see a mix of 80 percent foreign students and 20 percent locals. He said Hummingbird is confident it will land contracts to train international students because of a pilot shortage in their countries. The Federal Aviation Administration could not immediately confirm the status of Hummingbird’s progress in getting approval to train foreign pilots.
Wilber owns a Merced trucking company called Commodity Transporters. Baptista owns Cal Coast Manufacturing, a Turlock agricultural and commercial construction firm. Baptista said opening a flight school is taking him back to his roots. He said he learned to fly in 1987 at the Modesto Airport.
“I’m back in the same place where I learned to fly almost 30 years ago,” he said. “I spent a lot of time there. I loved it.”
Hummingbird will pay $1,246.50 a month for the hangar and $784 a month for the building. The building rent was reduced by $320 a month over the five years because Hummingbird is making $19,175 in improvements, according to a city report. The rents can increase annually based on inflation.
Modesto Aviation was the last flight school to operate at the airport. It was there from 2009 to 2014, according to airport staff.