Flight school soars, thanks to Net

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Steinbach area operation draws half of its students from abroad

Tue, Dec 4, 2001 / By Murray McNeill / Winnipeg Free Press

Winnipeg Free press artical about Harv’s AirThe Internet has enabled a Steinbach-area flight school to soar to new heights as it attracts flight students from around the globe.

Enrolment at Harv’s Air Service, a family-owned business founded 29 years ago by Harvey Penner, has more than doubled in the last five years to about 180 students a year.

Harvey’s son, Adam, who now runs the school and serves as its chief flight instructor, said much of the increase has come from foreign students who learned about the school through its Web site www.harvsair.com.

“That (foreign students) is our biggest growth in business,” Adam said in an interview, noting five years ago the school had no foreign students. Now they account for about half its annual enrolment.

This past summer, the school had students from as far away as Germany, Sweden, Australia, Spain and New Zealand. Its current crop includes students from Scotland, Holland, India and Nepal.

While Penner is quick to credit the Internet with much of the school’s growth in foreign students — he calls it “the great equalizer” — an official with the Air Transportation Association of Canada said there’s more to it than that.

Glenn Priestley, vice-president of fixed-wing, air taxi and flight training for ATAC, said a lot of Harv’s Air Service’s success is also due to the type of groundbreaking school it runs and to the world-class Web site Adam Penner has designed.

In fact, the Web site is so impressive it recently garnered Harv’s Air a national ATAC Innovation Award. Priestley said the Web site stands out because it not only provides a wealth of information about the school, it also features an aviation discussion forum where aviation enthusiasts can exchange ideas and information.

As well, the school uses it to deliver a 90-day on-line ground-school program for flight students. Priestley said that although there are other Web sites offering on-line training, “I don’t know any others that do it to the extent he (Penner) does.””He’s taken an on-line presence and really made it work for him,” Priestley added.

Priestley and Penner said there are other factors which also have helped draw more foreign flight students to Harv’s Air and to Canadian flight schools in general. They include the low value of the Canadian dollar, the sterling international reputation of Canada’s aviation-training programs and their relatively low cost.

Cost is one of the main reasons Scottish student Paul Thomas is taking his flight training at Harv’s Air, which offers comprehensive courses for all pilot licences and permits. The 26-year-old Glasgow native said it’s costing him about half what it would to take the same training in the United Kingdom.

“And I have no regrets at all,” Thomas said, adding he hopes to graduate in about three months with his commercial pilot’s licence.

Because of the influx of foreign students, Harv’s Air has had to hire four or five more flight instructors over the last five years. It now has 11 on staff, making it one of the 15 largest flight schools in the country, Penner said.

In addition to the flight school, the company operates an air taxi service that offers charter flights to northern Manitoba and the United States, as well as an aircraft maintenance shop that looks after the Harv’s Air fleet of 14 planes and does repair work for other aircraft owners. Those two operations boost total employment at Harv’s Air to about 20 people.

Penner said the flying school is still by far the largest part of the family business, accounting for about 70 per cent of its yearly revenue. The air taxi operation generates about 20 per cent, and the aircraft maintenance shop the remaining 10 per cent.

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