REDMOND — Hillsboro Aero Academy opened its new campus Wednesday at Redmond Airport with a ribbon-cutting and inaugural flight of a Cessna 152 with a flight instructor and student aboard.
A presence at the Prineville Airport since 2012, the flight school relocated its Central Oregon campus to a larger, 12,100-square-foot facility at Redmond Airport leased from Leading Edge Aviation Inc., the fixed-base operator. With larger facilities, the flight school also plans to increase its student body, comprising mostly Chinese students preparing to become commercial pilots for Chinese airlines, by a factor of three, to about 150.
In addition to larger facilities, Redmond Airport affords student pilots more training in controlled airspace, company executives have said.
Thirty-four Hillsboro flight students already train in Redmond, said Linda Cramer, the campus manager. Fourteen students are bussed from Prineville, she said, and the others, new arrivals to the U.S., are living in 10 rental properties acquired in town by Rogue Real Estate Sales and Property Management. The flight school plans to purchase two more properties, both quadraplexes, for student housing within days, she said.
One student, Jiacheng Lu, 21, wearing the trademark red jacket of Hillsboro Aero Academy and an Oregon State University ball cap, arrived just a month ago in the U.S. from his hometown, Ningbo, a city of about 1.7 million in Zhejiang Province, China. Jiacheng said he likes American basketball, hip-hop and blue skies.
“To be honest, I like America very much,” he said on the tarmac outside the campus office.
He said he also enjoys the freedom of flight. Becoming a pilot is his dream, Jiacheng said: “I have to say, a pilot in China is a good job, a stable job.”
His parents, he said, are in the furniture business. His mother supported his coming to the U.S., Jiacheng said. His father had concerns.
“My father thinks I should have stayed in China, because America is very dangerous,” he said. “He maybe thinks, on the news,” Jiacheng said, while forming his right hand into a gun.
Chinese students described a number of exams they must pass, along with attaining a college-level education and being able to speak English, to qualify for flight training in the U.S. Hillsboro Aero Academy, which contracts with Chinese airlines to train their pilots, also screens prospective students, said Jon Hay, the academy CEO. The training course is about 14 months long.
“This airport is going to have the capacity for us to bring larger groups out here and operate more consistently. We’re very excited about that,” Hay said during his remarks. “I’m also very excited to bring a little bit of the world to Redmond.”
The students typically go through several weeks of orientation, “showing them how to live in an apartment, what the smoke detector means and things like that before they actually get flying,” said Jordan Bartel, the airplane chief instructor at the Hillsboro campus.
Chinese culture values deference to authority, so for new students, asking questions in class may be considered an affront to the instructor, Bartel said. Instructors sometimes have to convince the students that American culture, especially in education, encourages questions.
Also, Hay said, the young Chinese men are only children, the result of a decadeslong “one-child policy” that ended in 2015. And extended families are common in China, where grandparents live with their children and grandchildren. So young Chinese are accustomed to being taken care of by family. Moving to the U.S. and living on their own is a big change for many of them, he said.
Cramer, the campus manager, said the school expects another 30 students to arrive by mid-December and 30 more in January.
“It’s been fun to see people in the community just curious about the kids,” she said. “And the students love it here.”
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