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School in the Sky

TCI Flight School makes flying dreams a reality.
By Kathy Borsuk

Aviation has long played a major role in this isolated, ocean-locked archipelago. Not only are the skies the “highway” connecting the country to the rest of the world, but airplanes serve as a lifeline in ferrying people and supplies from one island to another.
But what pilots may not tell you is that flying is sheer joy. It’s soaring in unfettered freedom through azure skies with the sweeping vision of an osprey. Traveling above a shimmering sea of effervescent turquoise one minute, a verdant landscape of rich greens the next. Seeing the world from an elevated perspective that puts man and his machinations firmly in their place.

TCI Flight School makes flying dreams a reality.

With the November 2012 opening of TCI Flight School, the dream of flying has become vastly more reachable to island residents and visitors. Based out of the Providenciales FBO, the TCI Flight School offers on-island the full course necessary obtain a Single Engine Private Pilot’s License. This includes the bookwork, on-the-ground training and 40 hours of flying time, including solo flights, that are required. Also taught are Instrument Rating and Commercial Licenses, along with advanced emergency training. Students fly in a Piper Tomahawk two-seater or Diamond Star four-seater aircraft, both sporty, safe and well-maintained.
Pilot Ben Gearing is the force behind TCI Flight School, and he explains the benefits of learning to fly in the Turks & Caicos Islands. “To begin with, the air space here is very quiet, allowing you to have more valuable training in a shorter period of time. In Florida, for instance, you spend much of your time on the ground waiting for a slot and there are many other planes surrounding you. Here, just like the beaches, you have the skies all to yourself.” TCI’s amazing natural beauty can be even more exquisite from a bird’s eye view and Ben adds, “Every lesson is like a sightseeing trip.”
If you do price comparisons, you’ll be pleasantly surprised that, although the final sum varies, it’s still about 1/3 the cost of obtaining a private pilot’s license in the US, and even less than training in the UK. Besides the efficiency of learning from a small airport, Ben includes all the pre- and post-flight ground briefings in the cost of a lesson, which is often not the case in other flight schools. (He also allows trainees to “pay as you go,” not demanding the entire fee upfront as is typical elsewhere.) The full course can be completed in four to six weeks, but can also be spread over a longer time frame, at your own pace.
What about safety? After learning about Ben’s background and spending time in his calm, steady presence, I was thoroughly convinced that TCI Flight School students are in the hands of a master. Besides doing most of your training flights over the nearly deserted islands of Pine and Parrot Cay and North Caicos, with landing strips readily available, Ben Gearing is a seriously qualified pilot.

Student Kevin Downer and TCI Flight School Manager/Owner Ben Gearing make flying their passion!

Ben’s love of flying started when he was just a child in the UK, flying model airplanes in a field near his house. That’s why it seemed like second nature when his first flying lessons included acrobatic maneuvers! He earned his Private Pilot’s License in Bristol and flew WW II biplanes with a retired RAF pilot, who also taught him formation flying and aerobatics from a military standpoint. Ben supplemented his craft with a Bachelor’s Degree in Aircraft Engineering, then moved to California to earn his Commercial Pilot and Flight Instructors’ licenses.
Ben came to the Turks & Caicos in 2003, where he worked with Global Airways ferrying passengers to and from North Caicos, as well as flying jets for private operators. In 2008, he met three long-time island residents who wanted to learn to fly, and had the wherewithal to purchase a plane to do so. Ben found a cherry Piper Tomahawk in Oregon, and flew it to Provo over the course of eight days. This plane became the basis for the TCI Flight School. A Diamond Star, owned by another two residents, was recently added to the fleet.
Ben also holds a Commercial Helicopter Pilot’s license, and through TCI Helicopters, of which he is a partner, flies the Bell 206 Jet Ranger helicopter for sightseeing, adventure, photography and surveying flights. Ben also trains with the local fire department to accurately deploy water bucket drops on bush fires and other burn sites.
Currently, Ben says, there are 14 students learning to become pilots, a 50/50 mix of expatriates and Belongers. Some, he says, caught the “flight bug” through a trial lesson, which are very popular with tourists and residents, and makes a great gift. For only $175, the once-in-a-lifetime experience includes a 15 minute briefing of all the essential tips and a 30 minute flight over Grace Bay and the Caicos Cays with you in control in the cockpit. No experience required!
Anyone from age 16 to 80 can learn to fly, with a medical pass required to obtain a Student Pilot Certificate, the starting point for pilot’s license training. The two thick manuals, one focusing on theory and the other on flying, do require the commitment of an hour or two a day of study. Your first solo flight can take place in as little as 10 hours, as soon as you’ve learned to start and stop the plane, take-off and land, work the radio and manage emergency procedures on your own.
When he’s not teaching students, Ben finds other ways to stay in the air. He is also an FAA authorized instructor and administers Biennial Flight Reviews and flight tests for all of TCI’s certified pilots. Not surprisingly, he’s a hard-core kiteboarder as well.
Ben believes there are excellent career opportunities for local students in the aviation industry. He plans to petition TCI Government to again apply scholarship and grant funds to flight school, allowing students to complete all the stepping stones here at home. After becoming a Licensed Private Pilot, the next step is securing an Instrument Rating (able to fly a plane only by reference to instruments, useful in limited visibility situations) and on to Commercial Pilot Training.
Ben muses, “At the beginning, the process seems very hard. But once you break down the procedures into steps and practice them, they will be second nature for the rest of your life. After a few flights, you’ll wonder why you ever got confused! Flying actually becomes relaxing.” He adds, “Learning to fly is a good life lesson. It makes things that once seemed impossible, look more manageable.”

For more information or to book a trial lesson, visit www.tciflightschool.com or call 649 441 8523.



1 Comment

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marcelin jean
Jun 16, 2015 11:02

How it cost to get the entire package for private pilot

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Marta Morton, owner/operator of Harbour Club Villas (www.harbourclubvillas.com) took this photo of the native Turks & Caicos rock iguana on Bay Cay. This endemic animal is being threatened by the invasive green iguana. See article on page 36.

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