“Activity stems from urgency to address global pilot shortage”
Fort Myers, Fla. — September 22, 2021 — Amid a summer of delayed and cancelled flights due to staffing shortages and myriad pandemic woes impacting travel, the once sleepy flight training industry is gaining the attention of national and international aviation giants. Christopher Schoensee, president and owner of Fort Myers-based Paragon Flight Training and a keen observer of movement in the industry, says such activity stems from the urgency of addressing the global pilot shortage.
“Major players like CAE, United Airlines and Skyborne in London are taking aggressive steps to buy up smaller flight training schools in the U.S. for the specific purpose of training more commercial pilots,” Schoensee said. “I believe we’re seeing the tip of the iceberg; for the first time in decades, big players are shifting some of their attention away from government and military pilot training toward privately-owned flight schools that make up a significant percentage of the commercial aviation/specialty training produced here in the USA.”
Paragon Flight Training was founded in 2006; 15 years later, Schoensee, who is a member of the board of directors of the Flight School Association of North America (FSANA), said he’s seen more buy and sell activity in recent years than in the company’s entire history.
“The flight training industry is highly-fragmented, with many schools producing pilots at different rates and with varying degrees of proficiency. That unpredictable pilot production, combined with a years-in-the-making pilot shortage and a pandemic, created interest from companies recognizing the opportunity to consolidate market share,” Schoensee said. “Some schools couldn’t handle the temporary slowdown forced by the pandemic and either closed or sold, while other flight schools grew along with the increased awareness of the crippling pilot shortage. It really comes down to grow and compete or get out of the way.”
Paragon Flight Training is definitely in growth mode, with a groundbreaking slated for October for an expanded 14,000 square foot hangar on Page Field in Fort Myers and plans to purchase an additional 45-50 planes, tripling its current fleet.
“We’ve had a growth mindset for several years, but it has definitely crystallized as we continue to see tremendous opportunity for premier flight training schools like ours to up our game and lead the way in commercial, military and recreational pilot training,” Schoensee said. “We apply the best practices of our larger counterparts but can be nimble in decision making due to our size.”
Paragon Flight Training also intends to retain its leverage by continuing to cater to domestic students – currently 90% of its student population. With a modern fleet, advanced simulator technology, and a reputation for high quality training, domestic students will pay premium rates to gain their pilot certification. Schools with older fleets and technology tend to attract international students via brokers, who also take a slice of the earnings.
“We are not afraid of the changes sweeping through our industry – we’re investing in the future of flight training and we’re excited about it,” Schoensee said.
About Paragon Flight Training
Paragon Flight is an award-winning flight academy headquartered at Page Field in Fort Myers, Florida. With FAA and SEVIS accreditations, a fleet of nearly 20 planes, and advanced simulator technology onsite, the company trains commercial, professional, and recreational pilots as well as offering military pilot training for domestic and foreign governments. The company is in the process of a 22,000-combined-square-foot expansion slated for completion in fourth quarter 2021.