Delaware hasn’t had a commercial airline service since 2015, when Frontier Airlines pulled its service out of Wilmington Airport (as it was known in the Frontier days — it’s now back to the name New Castle Airport). The small airport on Dupont Highway didn’t bring the airline the profits it had hoped for.
It also, according to flyGATEWAY President and CEO Regis de Ramel, didn’t provide jobs for people in Delaware.
“They would just fly in and fly out,” he said.
flyGATEWAY was founded about 20 years ago in Allentown, Pennsylvania, as a for-profit flight school. It survived the post 9/11 years, when many flight schools went under, de Ramel said. It opened a second location in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, then eventually its youngest location at the New Castle Airport.
Today, the flight school is a nonprofit, and de Ramel is aiming to turn the New Castle location into an 1,100-acre aerospace campus for aspiring aviators and a centrally located producer of commercial pilots — all in an industry that is seeing both growth, and a dearth of people qualified for its jobs.
“Commercial pilots have mandatory retirement at the age of 65,” de Ramel said, as we toured one of flyGATEWAY’s New Castle hangars. “A lot of pilots today are from the Vietnam era, and they’re retiring now. There’s a need.”
For many people who are interested in becoming pilots, there are barriers. Most flight schools can’t accept financial aid through FAFSA, which provides Pell Grants and federal education loans to millions of students every year.
“No college degree is needed to become a pilot,” said de Ramel. However, by tying flight training with academic programs like aviation management, doors open for aid. So, in flyGATEWAY’s case, “we have partnerships with Liberty University in Virginia, where students can take online classes in aviation, giving them access to federal financial aid.”
The program, which is still in development and will eventually include several Delaware colleges and universities, is a proven concept at the Allentown location, de Ramel said. Students — some right out of high school, some older and looking for a change in career, others coming out of the military needing to convert their licenses for commercial use — enroll in a program that takes about two years, the same amount of time its takes to earn any associate’s degree.
Once the program is approved for VA funding for military pilots, the school plans to launch the program around the summer of 2020.
In the meantime, flyGATEWAY is working on raising funds for scholarships and getting the word out. It scored a big boost recently: The company’s pitch for the program was the winner at the recent Pete du Pont Foundation event Reinventing Delaware, earning it the potential for funding and connections to local leaders.
Learn more about flyGATEWAY’s New Castle location here.