With the airline industry growing at an exponential rate, the need for training professional pilots is crucial. Emirates is taking a giant step to addressing the demand for pilots with its Dubai-based Emirates Flight Training Academy, which officially opens here on Monday.

“Emirates has long been the catalyst for establishing Dubai as an international centre of aviation. With the predicted need for thousands of commercial pilots over the next decade, the launch of the Emirates Flight Academy is another example of Emirates’ leading position and commitment to the future of aviation in the UAE,” says Adel Al Redha, Emirates Executive Vice-President of Engineering and Operations.

The Academy, located on its own private airport and campus on the edge of Dubai World Central Airport, will act as the dedicated training centre for Emirates’ prestigious National Cadet Pilot Programme. Emirates’ AED500 million ($136 million) investment in the Flight Training Academy included construction of the new facilities, a fleet of 22 Cirrus SR22 and five Embraer Phenom 100EV training aircraft, a maintenance hangar, simulators, its very own lighted runway and a small FBO (fixed base operation).

Capacity will ramp up in a couple of years to 600 students on campus, with an annual intake of around 160 to 180 a year for courses that will last up to three and a half years.

The facility will have 56 classrooms, and a restaurant that can prepare up to 1,500 meals per day.

There are two intake streams for the Emirates Flight Training Academy: The first is the UAE National Cadet program which has been ongoing for 25 years now. Cadets previously used to complete their ground school training in Dubai and take up flight training at international locations, but Emirates Flight Training Academy cadets will complete 100% of their training in Dubai. Cadets graduating successfully from the UAE National stream enter Emirates’ fleet as First Officers.

The second intake stream for the academy includes other international cadets, but they have no guarantee of joining the airline.  They can, however cadets go through the normal recruitment process for pilots within Emirates or they can to apply for other airlines. 

To date, the Academy has taken delivery of the first of its Phenom jets, and six of the 22 Cirrus SR22s. It will have 10 aircraft by the end of the year. Its first intake of 153 students has already started.

The school spent one year assessing different aircraft, including twin-engine turboprops, but selected the Phenom because of its airliner characteristics that a stemmed from Brazilian manufacturer Embraer’s airline culture, explained Capt. Abdulla Al Hammadi, Vice President, Emirates Flight Training Academy. “We decided to go into the jet because that will make an easier, smarter transition to a bigger aircraft. It's very similar to the airliners, especially with the functioning of cockpit avionics.”

In traditional cadet programs, students move from single-engine piston aircraft to twin-engine piston aircraft before transitioning to jet airplanes. With the Emirates Flight Training Academy, students move from the single-engine piston Cirrus SR22 directly to the jet-powered Embraer Phenom 100E. This eliminates an extra step in becoming a commercial pilot and gives cadet pilots an enhanced curriculum during single engine training, as well as more experience flying jet aircraft before being trained as an official Emirates pilot.

The two-year project to build the Academy stemmed not so much from addressing pilot shortages but from a desire to become a world leader in training quality, he notes. The graduation of 180 cadets a year will make a little dent on the world’s need for half a million new pilots over the next 12 years, but it will ensure that Emirates gets the best of the best. “Our focus on the interim is more of enhancing the training; making sure that we have a better standard than the rest of the academies available around us. That was our focus,” he says.

Last year the academy signed an agreement with Boeing to collaborate on a comprehensive training curriculum and software infrastructure based on the Peters Software system for managing cadet learning and training flight operations. Cadets will learn with highly interactive digital content delivered in purpose-designed classrooms and on personal tablets.