Leading Helicopter Academies is the first European network of helicopter flying schools. Committed to raising standards, by combining their strengths and industry knowledge. One of their leading schools is Heli Austria Flight Academy.
Heli Austria is one of the largest and most well-known helicopter companies in Europe. Celebrating 40 years in the industry this year. Operating in Austria, but also Switzerland, Greece, Italy, Iceland and Chile. Its fleet of over 40 helicopters covers almost every aspect of flying, including transportation, construction, firefighting and mountain rescue. Surprisingly the training academy only started four years ago.
Christopher Feltl, Accountable Manager at Heli Austria explains: “We started the Heli Austria Flight Academy in 2018 because we recognised that there was a lack of pilots on the job market. Also, the high standards and demands we make could not be fulfilled from the outside. We realised that we needed a dedicated academy to train our future pilots. It takes one up to two years to get a Commercial Pilot Licence, during that time we get to know our students very well. Assessing whether this person has what it takes to work for Heli Austria.”
Shortage of pilots
The shortage of pilots is not just an issue in Austria, it’s an issue affecting all of Europe. According to Christopher: “It’s a general issue, there’s a lot of pilots aged around 60, from the baby boomer years, but nowadays far less. There was also a lack of training organisations, especially for helicopters. That’s another reason we decided to have an in-house academy.”
Heli Austria Flight Academy has two main bases, Wien–Vöslau and at Salzburg Airport.
“Our main base at Wien–Vöslau is located 25 kilometres south of Vienna. This airfield is probably the best place to do helicopter training in Austria. Maybe the reason that the Austrian police uses this airfield. We have a short traffic pattern, so you can go every five minutes. You can do a landing, you have a helipad, you have access to three parallel runways, two grass and one asphalt. And there’s lots of space around. You are close to the eastern part of the Alps, you can reach 2,000 metre mountains in about 20 minutes. We’re also close to five countries.”
Five minutes from the Alps
The Salzburg flight academy also has many benefits, not least being close to Salzburg, birthplace of Mozart. “Our base at Salzburg is really close to the Alps, so you’re up in the high mountains in just five minutes. In addition, there’s the sightseeing flights. The landscape is so beautiful for students, especially from abroad. Some of them have never seen mountains or even snow! Basically, it’s always good weather there. So, almost no fog and no high winds. It’s a nice place in the middle of the Alps.”
What is the magic that makes Heli Austria better for helicopter training than other academies? “Okay, there’s the location in the middle of Europe, so we’re easy to reach. There’s lots of pilots, lots of different helicopters and lots of different missions. During the training, they’re able to visit different bases and meet up with the pilots. To see what field is the most interesting to them after graduating. We’re not a small company with a couple of helicopters. If they don’t get a job with us, they can go out in the world and apply for any helicopter job.”
B&B next to the airfield
Another question often posed by students is where they will stay. “At our main base, students can stay in bed & breakfast accommodation, right next to the airfield. That’s the best value for short stays, for ratings and commercial training. While for longer stays, a pilot licence for example, then the city of Vienna is only 25 kilometres away, with a good train connection and lots of nice places to stay around the city. I don’t recommend staying in the center of Salzburg because it’s very expensive there. However, as a country for tourists, we have lots of places to stay.”
A big issue for many graduating pilots with PPL, CPL or ATPL, is the seeming necessity to also do the FI course, whether you want to become an instructor or not. People in the industry believe it’s the best way to quickly gain more experience. Also, by giving instruction, that makes you a better pilot. You’re only taken really seriously when you have over 1,000 hours of flying time.
Only for our best students
“Yeah, Yeah, I think we should start with the gap beginning at 135 hours, when students are doing their integrated commercial licence. That’s why we offer our best students the opportunity to carry out tour flights on the Robinson fleet at our two main bases. Common ways to start a career as a young pilot can be as a task specialist, also called ground crew. Also, doing ferry flights from one construction site to the next, gaining experience on the job. That’s something else we do. However, it is true that one of the best things for pilots starting their career is to train as flight instructors.”
Founding member of Leading Helicopter Academies
Heli Austria Flight Academy is one of the founding members of the Leading Helicopter Academies (LHA). This is the first European helicopter training network, with the intention to raise flying standards. How do you see this?
“It’s common in aviation to work against each other instead of helping each other. LHA offers stability for ATOs to connect across Europe. To exchange experiences, give students the possibility to expand their horizons. With special programmes and a cross-border hour building programme, for example. We want to help each other. Good for our students, and in return, good for students from abroad training at other member companies. Win-win!”
About Christopher Feltl: Christopher didn’t take the usual route to becoming a helicopter pilot. It wasn’t something he dreamed about as a child. In fact, he didn’t think about helicopters at all until much later, when he started studying electrical engineering at the Vienna University of Technology. There, he was mostly working on projects building houses. He also started doing a so-called small project on the flight simulators at Heli Austria. The flying academy was near where he lived, he started working in their office. He got more and more projects. After two years, he was the Accountable Manager for Heli Austria Flight Academy. More importantly, he had found his love for flying!