High-flyers have licence to thrill
For anyone who has ever dreamt of flying, the first step to getting your wings is to join the Hong Kong Aviation Club (HKAC), the city's only flight training centre.
Its members can learn to fly fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters, and obtain the essential Private Pilot Licence (PPL) which allows pilots to fly solo or with passengers. The licence may not take as long to obtain, or be as costly as some would think.
'To get the licence, you will have to have flown for at least 40 hours, with at least 10 hours being solo flights,' explains John Li, president and chief pilot of the HKAC. 'However, it's common for many students to take around 50 to 60 hours before reaching the required standard.'
Club membership costs HK$35,000 and the cost of obtaining a PPL varies, depending on how long it takes a student to reach the required standard. An hour-long training flight on a Cessna C152 (pictured) costs HK$2,150, with larger aircraft costing slightly more. In addition to 40 hours of flight time, trainee pilots also need to complete classes on the ground, including learning about meteorology, airframes and engines.
Students can learn to fly with an instructor from the age of 14, but will not be able to fly solo until they are 17. There is no upper age limit, but a medical certificate may be needed to prove that students are fit enough to take control of an aircraft. There are few other requirements, although all pilots must be able to speak English - the language of aviation.
'Our fixed-wing training takes place at Shek Kong Airfield in the New Territories, with much of the helicopter training taking place out of Kai Tak,' Li says. The Shek Kong Airfield is used by the People's Liberation Army during the week, with permission given to the club to use it during weekends. 'This can limit the amount of hours we have available for training and it can take about a year for someone to gain their PPL.'
Getting a licence to fly helicopters is usually quicker as the club operates every day from Kai Tak, and can be completed in six to seven months.
Safety is a major consideration, and Li says that pilots trained in Hong Kong tend to be more skilful and confident than elsewhere, as the confined environment sharpens their skills. The club is supported by instructors with decades of experience, some of whom are commercial airline pilots.
Licences obtained here are recognised by the International Civil Aviation Organization.
More information on learning to fly in Hong Kong can be found at the HKAC website: www.hkaviationclub.com.hk