Elias Sofianos is a Hellenic Air Force retired Colonel and the founder of Dekeleia Aeroclub, a very successful registered facility which instructed 650 pilots in the last 30 years. The focus originally was on students achieving their Private Pilot License for both helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, but he soon realised that many students wanted to get their commercial pilot’s license. And that’s where Superior Air Flight Academy really came to life. The academy currently has 150 students.
Superior Air has many areas of expertise. Apart from the flying academy, the company is specialised in air charter, aerial work, maintenance and even selling aircrafts. It’s also a founding member of the Leading Helicopter Academies (LHA), which has been set up to raise flying standards in Europe. Greece is a special place for flying since a pilot can experience all kinds of flying conditions: over land, sea, and mountain and the weather allows you spending more time in the air.
60% AOC and 40% training in the summer
Elias: “Our activities are split into two parts, summer and winter. So, in summer AOC is number one, transporting people around the Greek islands, because of vacations and the great weather, of course. That’s supported by maintenance. In winter, we focus on the flight school. To give a good indication, the split in the summer is 60% AOC and 40% flight school.”
Though the flying school started in 2006, there was actually a registered facility on the same location for 25 years before that. That was then upgraded to an ATO for the flight school.
Elias: “When I first registered the facility as an ATO, it was more like a DTO (Declared Training Organisation) today. There was a lot more freedom. However, now the Civil Aviation Authority has a more important role to play, which means more checks and regulations.
When we train at Megara, a military airport, it’s especially good for helicopters. Simply because aeroplanes can’t do what helicopters do, they’re trapped by the need for a runway. Whereas we can provide helicopter training in areas close to Megara, land on a private street, or a grass strip… There’s no traffic and a lot of freedom.”
Idyllic flight training
What could be more idyllic than flight training in Greece? Or making cross-country flights to the islands, like Mykonos? There are certainly worse places to fly than Santorini. Then there’s the question of what kind of helicopter you would like to fly…
Elias: “For ATO training, we have the Robinsons, the R22, R44 and R66. We also have the EC120. For all of them we can provide type ratings, mostly for CPL holders, or private pilots who want to be a step ahead. They are very reliable and relatively simple, with good support from the company. These helicopters allow us to give instruction in mountain flying and external cargo, even with the R66. We train factory safety courses with the Robinsons.”
Where do students stay when they train with Superior Air?
Very nice modern dorms
Elias: “Actually, it’s a question we’re asked quite often. Especially when we have students from different cultures. For example, young people from Bahrain, whose fathers work for Gulf Air. They want to know that they’re well taken care of. Understandable, and that’s why we took some abandoned warehouses and changed them into very nice modern dorms. Providing everything, including wi-fi, Ethernet, heating and water. All walking distance from our training facility. Of course, there’s not unlimited capacity. Fortunately, there are some very nice hotels nearby, right next to the sea. And at very reasonable prices.”
Students can fly for 95% of the year. They can learn for their PPL or take a CPL course. There are mountains up to 10,000 feet high. You can be exposed to strong winds, turbulence, flying over the sea. It’s not just calm weather and blue skies in Greece. Students are provided with a very broad range of experiences.
Only working with very experienced pilots
Elias: “We only work with very experienced instructors. That’s not the case at all flight schools, some only use low time instructors who have as little as 200 hours. We just think that this is not a good idea, especially in exercises like critical slope operations, for example. On the other hand, sometimes you see a logbook with over 3,000 hours, you ask them to do an autorotation and their face changes. You can see immediately that they don’t have much experience with this. Not someone who will ever work for us.”
Oliver Michalakis, Chief Flight Instructor at Superior Air explains: “We provide opportunities in the company because we’re not just a school, we’re an AOC operator. And our instructors are highly experienced because they’re not just instructors, they are active commercial pilots in the AOC as well. So they are used to seeing passenger transport on a daily basis. They can give that experience to the students. Basically, we can offer low hour pilots the opportunity to gain experience and build hours in a safe way. Not flying alone but with an experienced captain next to them. Learning from an accomplished pilot, while building their own hours. This is a very good way to bring somebody into the industry.”
Learn everything about helicopter operations
Elias: “When a pilot trains for their CPL with us, they also gain insights into how a helicopter company works. The requirements and the possibilities for the future. They see that they have the opportunity to learn everything about the helicopter operations around them.
Our environment is helps gain experience with the important aspects of helicopter piloting. We have high mountains, but it’s the amount that is amazing. 80% of the land is covered by more than 4,000 mountains, Olympus being the highest at 9,500 feet. You can land a helicopter on 5,000 beaches nearby. You can even experience a wind of 45 knots. Today, if I look out my window, it’s a lovely day in Santorini, I can see 70 kilometres into the distance.”
At Superior Air it’s possible to fly as much as six hours per day, if the pilot wants that. That’s because there are enough instructors and enough helicopters. Also because the company has its own on-site maintenance, safe-guarding helicopter availability.
In the beginning of this article, we mentioned LHA (Leading Helicopter Academies), what does that mean for Superior Air?
The benefits of a European network
Elias: “I thought immediately that it was a smart idea. Something unique. Something we should be doing. The combination of companies with different areas of expertise. The opportunity for pilots to experience different countries and cultures more easily. Most importantly, I think it will help improve air safety. Learning best practices from each other, sharing the newest technology and ideas.
Fitting that Superior Air is a member of an international network, as it is a very international environment. More and more students are coming from abroad, particularly from the Middle East, but also from Northern Europe. They know that they have all the benefits of high-quality training at a reasonable price. And let’s not forget the beautiful scenery and weather!
If you’d like to know more about Superior Air, visit their website: https://www.superior-air.gr/flight-academy/