INFINITY AND BEYOND

Saudi Arabia 2019-2020 | TRANSPORT | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Abdulaziz Alshehri, Director of Infinity Aviation Academy, on accreditation, demand, and government contracts.

Could you walk us through the milestones since Infinity Aviation Academy's establishment in 2010?

When Alpha Star was established, it had government contracts to support the public sector, and all its customers came through the government. By 2015, when we started expanding, the decision was made to maintain Alpha Star to support the government and. When we won a government helicopter maintenance contract with the Saudi Ministry of Interior (MoI), we questioned why we did not pursue a contract for the entire support role, which included training. It had been sending its pilots to the US for training, with all the difficulties that go along with that, such as visas, logistics, and availability. We put forward a proposal to accommodate the flight simulator here and provide all the required training. Currently, we have an ongoing agreement with MoI for training at Infinity Aviation Academy. For any training we do not offer here, we arrange it elsewhere. We have a great relationship with other training centers around the world and sometimes send people overseas for training and reclaim the cost from the government later. All training programs are delivered in-house, and all our materials and instructors are certified by General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA). For new customers, we go through a process to determine their training requirements and customize our standard curriculum.

Could you tell us more about the accreditation you received to perform your training courses?

No aviation company can work without a training department, because that department makes sure everyone meets the requirements of the various authorities, such as the Civil Aviation Authority GACA. When the authorities issue the certificate for the business, they give the company the requirements for their pilots, mechanics, cabin crew, and other staff. To maintain their certificates and perform their duties, the company and their staff have to meet these requirements. The training department is in charge of ensuring this happens. This means creating a training schedule and systems to evaluate and monitor, in addition to conducting the training required by GACA in-house. When we expanded and established Infinity Aviation Academy, we created another core business teaching non-employees. Now, we have agreements with certain governments to teach their pilots. They send their pilots to Infinity Aviation Academy for initial, ongoing, or advanced courses, and we do this for both the commercial aviation industry and the military. We have been certified as the first training center for rotary wing aircraft, which requires going through many processes with GACA with full success.

Which direction is Infinity Aviation Academy heading toward in line with the latest trends in demand for aviation training?

The first step we do is a study of the potential business in the market we work in. In an aviation study, we calculate the figures and come up with the advantages or disadvantages of a business line. Infinity Aviation Academy is owned by PIF, and we are looking for growth on a smooth trajectory. By doing that, any additional revenue creates a reasonable mid-ranged net profit, and we can continue to run. Once we build up our name and introduce our services such that everyone knows the quality we offer, this is where we grab the customers. In our line of business, most of the customers around the world know each other, and if they have a bad experience with a particular supplier, others will stop using that service as well. We try to firstly maintain our contract with government to meet vision 2030 and perform outstandingly to exceed its expectations. We provide it with everything it needs so it does not have to handle any of it. In addition, we do a great deal of consultation work for MoI about how to build its training for technicians, pilots, and crew. It is pleased and trusts us, and we take this workload off its shoulders. Today, we receive numerous requests from companies around the world that want to work with us. In France, we met with four major companies looking to work us for pilot training. Setting up a training facility takes a great deal of time, including at least 18 months for the factory to deliver the simulator units, another month for installation and testing, and a year to get certified if there are no issues. There is only one shortcut, which is bringing in units to an existing facility that is already certified, which is what companies can do with us. At the end of 2019, we should host three simulators. We base our workload on the number of airplanes and pilots in the Kingdom because these figures control the feasibility of the business. By studying these numbers, we can work out how many training hours and shifts we can work and then commit to training in advance. We have to deliver between 6,500 to 10,000 hours of training on a unit to make it profitable. We also look to create partnerships locally and forge synergies with other PIF companies. In 2030, PIF will have the lead of all aviation companies, and we need to work together and support each other to create strong companies in each fleet and niche of the aviation industry, be it maintenance, training, rotary wing, or fixed wing. Just locally, the market is enormous, including private and government aviation combined. Aside from government, there are thousands of pilots in the Royal Saudi Air Force and Royal Saudi Army and Navy, the Border Security, Medivac, and all the private aviation companies. On top of this, we rent our units to companies that want to bring in their own instructors for company-specific training for their pilots using our facilities.