Live overseas? Wanna be a pilot? Try Brooksville's flight school.

About 20 international students learn something unique at American Aviation Flight Academy, school leaders say.
Published October 31 2018
Updated October 31 2018

BROOKSVILLE — Anytime he sees a plane overhead, Ross Crichlow wishes he were up there. So does Riccardo Angeleri.

The 23-year-old flight instructor and his 18-year-old student didn't have that problem last Friday.

"Clear prop," Angeleri yelled — a warning to move away from the propellers of the 1977 Cessna that he and Crichlow had climbed into.

Angeleri started the plane's engine as Crichlow watched from the passenger seat, and soon the pair was roaring toward a runway at American Aviation Flight Academy in Brooksville.

Crichlow has taught at the school for about two months, the latest of which he has spent training Angeleri, who came to Florida from Italy for the program. The Italian is one of about 20 international students at the academy, a figure that school leaders want to boost tenfold.

Over the past year, American Aviation has been making its case to students abroad that Brooksville — not exactly known as an international hub — is an ideal place to learn to fly. Foreign students so far seem to agree.

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Why Brooksville?

Joe Puglia, the academy's chief flight instructor, said that there's a growing demand internationally for pilots, because countries that once were developing have become economically competitive. Naturally, that means more flights.

So last December, the academy began recruiting students from oversees, using social media platforms such as Facebook to promote its programs. Puglia said the school also used word of mouth to recruit, particularly through people who stopped to fuel up at the site and got a look at its facilities.

Overseas students were scouting for schools, too.

Florida looks appealing to an international student who wants to attend flight school: The weather is predictable and great for flying much of the year.

"The weather is ideal to get their flying done on a pretty regular basis, so they can get their certification," Puglia said.

Among schools in Florida, he said, American Aviation stands out.

First, the area is rural, meaning pilots-in-training can avoid slower waits on the runway than they might find near urban airstrips, Puglia said.

Second, students avoid other delays like plane maintenance, because the school has its own Federal Aviation Administration–certified repair station. It also has shops for avionics — aviation electronics — and paint jobs. The in-house operations let students complete their courses more quickly, Puglia said.

And third, the academy is next to the Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport, which gives students access to commercial-grade facilities. Puglia said that in the time it may take a student in Miami or Orlando to do one air exercise, students in Brooksville could do two or three.

That saves students money, Puglia said.

"They get the most bang for their buck," he said.

• • •

The school is approaching its 40th birthday. Most of its students are 18 to 35 years old, and most are local. About 60 students attend the academy, Puglia said, and the numbers have grown since the school started taking international trainees. Attendees typically earn both private and commercial pilot certificates, the latter of which allows them to fly for profit. The process takes between five and six months, Puglia said.

Private certification, the most popular nationwide, takes a month or two at American Aviation, Puglia said. Then students take about 30 days to earn an "instrument rating," which means the pilots can fly in inclement weather.

Last comes the commercial program, which features a mix of dual flights — like Crichlow and Angeleri's — and solo flights. That takes another two months to finish, Puglia said.

"We truly are bringing you to the part where you're the master of the aircraft," Puglia said.

The chief, who has been in his role for about two years, was a helicopter pilot for the New York City Police Department and later an airplane captain for United Airlines. He also worked as an FAA examiner.

"We try to give them that atmosphere of what they're going to experience when they get to the majors," Puglia said.

• • •

The school faces challenges in accommodating international students, who travel here from countries like South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Italy. The federal government requires them to be fingerprinted, photographed and approved, school leaders said. They also need visas and housing, and they need to navigate other bureaucratic mazes, which school officials help with.

"We pretty much provide a chaperone service," said Puglia, adding, "We basically treat them like our kids."

But those hurdles are worth the value they bring to the community, he said, making the same pitch he offered Hernando County commissioners in October when he asked them to support the school's efforts.

"They're bringing revenue," Puglia said. Getting a commercial pilot certificate costs about $63,000, he said, and that's money invested in the county. Those international students are new customers in the local economy, too.

At the October meeting, board members praised the program. "It's a very young gem that hopefully we'll be able to grow," said Commissioner John Mitten.

Crichlow and Angeleri, the instructor and his Italian student, feel the rewards of flying more personally.

"Here, it's cheaper. You get to fly a lot more because of the weather," Angeleri said before the two took off.

Crichlow finds simple pleasure in passing on his skills to people like Angeleri.

"It's that light-bulb effect," he said, "when something is confusing, and then they get it."

Those moments, and the time he spends soaring through the sky, make all the fuel pumping and textbook reading worth it.

Contact Justin Trombly at [email protected] Follow @JustinTrombly.