Losing money every day, U.S. flight schools fear additional curbs might ruin their business

Thursday, September 20th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) _ Jon Brown's seaplane school is awash in red ink and fears his business may never recover until the government lets his planes back in the air.

Since the terrorist attacks last week, the Federal Aviation Administration has only permitted instrument-rated pilots who filed flight plans with airports to fly.

Rural airspace was reopened Wednesday for many small airplanes working under visual flight rules, but the majority of the nation's 478 FAA-certified flight schools are still restricted.

Already, Brown's seaplane school between Orlando and Tampa has lost $15,000. He laid off a mechanic and told other employees not to come to work this week.

``We're hearing from businesses that are saying they're not going to be able to hold on much longer,'' said Warren Morningstar, spokesman for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.

``Flight training is a capital-intensive business, an aircraft is an expensive item, and if you have a whole fleet of aircraft you have some very sizable fixed costs.''

The FAA restrictions have hit small flight schools hard because most employ pilots who can only fly under visual flight rules. The changes also could cripple smaller airports dependent on those private pilots and the firms that supply and maintain small planes.

Companies like Wayne Breeden's Helicopters Inc. in Memphis, Tenn., has lost $2,000 a day. If that continues, Breeden expects he will have to close shop within five weeks.

News that many of the alleged hijackers in last week's attacks attended U.S. flight schools also has meant that such companies fear the long-term loss of foreign students.

Flight school operators said they expect the State Department will make it more difficult for foreign students to enter the country, or will at least employ a screening process that lengthens the wait for visas.

In the meantime, schools across the country are hurting.

``We're flushing down the toilet quickly here,'' said Sheila Humphries, manager of Great Western Aviation's international flight school in Salt Lake City. ``Basically, we've had $70 income'' in the past week.

Time also is running out for Alex Farkas, owner of ADF Airways in Miami. ``In two weeks we're not going to have the money to pay the rent,'' she said. ``We're a family business. My husband is the chief instructor, my sister does accounting. It's very difficult.''

Rep. Bob Clement, D-Tenn., a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said officials understand the plight of flight schools.

``I'm not going to forget about general aviation,'' Clement said. ``Over 80 percent of the takeoffs and landings in this nation are general aviation. If this ban continues, pilot instructors, flight schools and others are going to be bankrupt.''