I didn’t come from a family of aviators, but being a pilot was always something that appealed. I started out as a glider pilot before joining the Spanish Air Force where I spent the best part of 17 years as a fighter pilot. Following my time in the military I decided to become a civilian pilot instructor and in 1993 I founded Aerotec with friends and fellow pilots. Before becoming president of Aerotec I worked as a commercial pilot flying with Air Europa and then Iberia. I retired from Iberia in 2016 and now devote my working life to Aerotec, as well as serving as president of the Spanish Association of Aeronautical Training (AEFA), a role I’ve held for the last 12 years.
Although I didn’t come from a family of aviators, I’m delighted that my youngest son has followed me into aviation and is currently a Captain flying with Madrid-based carrier, Swiftair.
I do miss flying in fighter jets, but unfortunately the lifespan of a military pilot is restricted. Physically, it’s very demanding and those pilots that stay in the military often end up retiring from flying early and carrying out desk duties on the ground. I wanted to continue flying, so I decided to leave the military and pursue a career in civil aviation.
We started out as a small flying school operating out of Madrid. We are now one of the biggest privately owned pilot academies in Spain with bases in Cuatro Vientos in Madrid and San Pablo International Airport in Seville. Most of our students originate from Spain although we have a small number of students coming from other European countries. One of the biggest changes we have had to adapt to since we opened nearly 30 years ago is that we are much more heavily regulated now as an aviation business than we were when we started out. Keeping up with these constantly evolving regulations is a full-time job in itself.
Our fleet size fluctuates according to demand but right now we have a fleet of 22 aircraft, which includes Tecnam, Diamond, Piper and Cessna aircraft.
I keep up my flying hours so I can maintain my license as an instructor, but primarily my day-to-day role is on the ground to oversee Aerotec’s operations and manage our partnerships with other stakeholders, such as Air bp and the Spanish Airport Authority, AENA.
It’s obviously been a very challenging period, however things are improving now across the industry. Both 2018 and 2019 were excellent years for us as a business in terms of growth and revenue. We had expected similar growth in 2020 before COVID hit. We had to furlough some of our staff when the first lockdown hit in March 2020 and move our training courses to an online platform. It was a steep learning curve, but we adapted quickly and our online learning facility has been extremely successful. We also helped our students by deferring payments where possible. I’m pleased to report however that by September 2021 we had recovered 100% of our flying activity and programmes and our staff have now all returned to work.
It’s an exciting time to be training as an airline pilot. It’s been 18 months of uncertainty, but we are in the recovery period now and many airlines will soon be looking to fill the positions of older pilots who took early retirement as a result of the pandemic. In 2022 I expect we will see airlines hiring at pace and looking beyond 2023 I think the market will be ripe for those entering as new pilots. It’s certainly important that we maintain a well-trained team of pilot instructors.
Our maintenance centre is EASA Part 145 certified and our decision to open a maintenance centre came about originally because we wanted to be self-sufficient in terms of servicing our own fleet of aircraft.
Despite Air bp being such a large organisation and Aerotec being a relatively small customer we really benefit from the professional and close working relationship we share. Air bp really understands our business and our needs and it’s that attention to detail from the account managers that make such a difference. It’s also a trusted and respected brand where safe, reliable fuelling services are the priority. And that’s obviously key to our operations.
We are still some way off sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) being available at scale and it’s currently only suitable as a drop-in fuel for jet engines, whereas we operate a fleet of piston engine aircraft that use Avgas. However, we were delighted to hear that earlier this year in July Air bp marked the first sale of its ISCC PLUS certified SAF in Spain. We would now like to see greater government support and investment from the European Union in terms of developing and increasing the supply of alternative fuels.
I am grateful that despite the challenges of the last 18 months our business is currently performing well so I want to focus on driving that growth. I would also like to see Spain being widely promoted as a destination for trainee pilots. We have year-round favourable weather, our airspace isn’t crowded and Spain is easily accessible from most other European countries. I would also like to see greater financial support for trainee pilots. Training to become a pilot costs around €80,000, so I would like to see more grants being made available for aspiring pilots. Overall, there needs to be a real rethinking of how the aviation training sector is perceived and can be better promoted by the authorities, at a local, national and European level.
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