[dropcap size=small]W[/dropcap]hen he was 24, Hoo Kok Mun was on the verge of embarking on his dream of becoming a pilot when his then wife-to-be issued him an ultimatum.
“It was either my dream or her,” says the IT consultant.
He chose the latter.
Now, 23 years later, the married father with two teenage children is going back to pursue his dream.
He signed up earlier this month to do a programme with a newly opened private flight school here, FlightSchool.sg.
The programme allows aspiring pilots to train to get a United States-issued private pilot licence (PPL).
FlightSchool.sg was launched last month. Located at Seletar Aerospace View, it is co-founded by Internet entrepreneur Fabian Lim, 45, and a pilot.
Its offerings are novel because unlike other flight schools here, which use either actual aircraft or both aircraft and flight simulators to conduct their training sessions, FlightSchool.sg uses only a simulator to do so.
Another difference is that the school aims to propel trainees towards becoming holders of a US-issued PPL, which means they can fly US-registered aircraft anywhere in the world.
The trainees of other flight schools here mostly attain a Singapore restricted PPL, which means they can fly Singapore-registered aircraft only within Singapore.
The other flight schools here which target amateur pilots are the Republic of Singapore Flying Club, the Singapore Youth Flying Club and the Seletar Flying Club.
Lim got the idea of starting his flight school in 2014, when he flew to the US to get a jet rating. He needed this rating before he could pilot a jet, which he had bought for his own use.
While in the US, his training – and even the final test – was conducted in a simulator.
“I flew an actual jet – my jet – only after passing that test,” he says.
Besides being able to provide realistic training, a simulator can help pilot trainees save money on renting aircraft for their training sessions, says Mr Lim.
It can also save them time as the simulator is not subject to weather conditions such as thunderstorms.
Lim says: “I thought, ‘Why don’t I introduce this to Singapore as a more affordable and efficient route to a PPL and help others realise their dream to fly?'”
He researched and found that a Redbird MCX flight simulator is one of the most popular models in the US for flight training and is also approved by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as a training device.
He then spent $250,000 importing it to Singapore.
The simulator can be configured to replicate the set-up of six types of aircraft. It can also teach the user to “land” at any airport in the world, with the help of real-world maps and charts.
Since the school’s launch last month, Lim says more than 10 people, whose ages range from their 20s to 60s, have signed up for the preparatory programme, which begins its first run next month.
This programme, which costs $4,995, includes theory lessons and 20 hours of flight simulator training over 12 weeks.
At the end of the programme, the trainees can opt to go to the US to train and sit the FAA’s private pilot test, all of which will take about a month.
After they pass that test, which Lim says costs about $15,000, they will be holders of a US-issued PPL.
The total cost and time taken to achieve the US-issued PPL will amount to about $20,000 and four months.
FlightSchool.sg also offers other programmes for different age groups. People who are keen to experience “flying” can sign up for a session on the flight simulator, which costs $150 for an hour with an instructor.
Lee Buck Choon, manager of the Republic of Singapore Flying Club in Seletar Aerospace Park, says those keen to be pilot trainees with the club must be prepared to part with between $40,000 and $50,000 to pursue a PPL.
This amount includes entrance fees into the club, monthly subscription fees, flying charges of between $430 and $500 an hour and landing fees, among other costs.
It will also take about two years for its trainees to attain the PPL, as the club offers only part-time courses.
In spite of these barriers to entry, Lee says the club has an average of 10 new students each year and it produces two to three new PPL-holders a year.
The club currently has about 70 members, most of whom hold Singapore-restricted PPLs.
Over at the Singapore Youth Flying Club in Seletar, which has an average of between 200 and 300 members a year, pilot trainees fork out far less in their journey towards attaining a PPL.
The annual membership fee is $10 and both flying and landing charges are borne by the club.
That is because the club is government-funded, explains operations manager Daniel Tan.
However, this club’s training course is open only to students in junior colleges and polytechnics, who take up the course as a co-curricular activity.
Tan says the club takes in about 200 trainees each year and about 50 from each batch achieve their PPL.
Hoo, who has signed up for FlightSchool.sg’s course to train to get a US-issued PPL, says he is excited about the course.
“I can’t wait to get started, even though my family think I’m crazy to be doing this after so many years,” he says, laughing.
This story first appeared in The Straits Times.