Growing Our Region

Whanganui home to world class pilot academy

To experience a tour around the New Zealand International Commercial Pilot Academy (NZICPA) in Whanganui is a privilege. It is an impressive, purpose built facility which, since it became fully operational in September 2017, has been attracting a whole lot of attention.
​Owned by Whanganui District Council Holdings Ltd (WDCHL), who oversee council’s commercial assets, the Pilot Academy was purchased from Flight Training Manawatū in 2015.  Over a transition period of approximately two years, the training centre has moved to Whanganui and officially opened as the NZICPA in September 2017.

“At the time, WDCHL knew there was a good capital asset available in Whanganui Airport which was being underutilised,” says NZICPA CEO Phillip Bedford.


The new purpose build Pilot Academy in Whanganui
“They wanted to ensure viability and utilise the asset to its maximum capacity.”

Now fully operational, with 40-50 students on the books and 15-20 staff, the Pilot Academy is going from strength to strength.

“Over the past two years we have had to focus on the transition to Whanganui, while continuing the operations established in Manawatū,” says Phillip.

“Now that’s done we can concentrate on growth and are looking to do this in a number of areas.

“We are focused on growing the international component of our business, with the goal to become a large international flight training organisation.”

The Pilot Academy has been working with UCOL to attract overseas students and deliver a programme incorporating pilot training alongside a qualification in business management. 

“It’s about providing a unique and exceptional product offering that is attractive to international students,” says Phillip.

Phillip and his team are also working on establishing partnerships with vocational training organisations in China. These organisations already have some forms of aviation training whether it be aviation security, customs or flight control. The Pilot Academy will be able to provide the pilot training component to ensure a full complement of services, while in turn attract new students to Whanganui.

Local Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) Whanganui and Partners and CEDA, along with New Zealand Trade & Enterprise have been invaluable in providing international recruitment support. The Pilot Academy can utilise the RDA’s contacts in conjunction with their own. In addition social media has been instrumental in spreading the word. In fact the NZICPA’s Facebook page currently has over 6,500 followers!

While the Pilot Academy has great appeal on its own, Whanganui provides an attractive destination for prospective students. Affordable student accommodation is available in the central city, plenty of amenities are accessible, students feel safe and secure plus the climate is pretty good too.

“We are also engaging with Indian and Chinese airlines to work on their pilot cadet programmes and we just employed our first ever A-category flying instructor,” says Phillip.

“This person will be able to assess trainee pilots, give out licenses and renewals.”

The complex has the ability to take up to 150 students so there is plenty of room for growth.

While there is lots to look forward to, there are still challenges to overcome.

Phillip acknowledges the global flight training business is competitive.  Accordingly, NZICPA adopts a collaborative approach and Phillip believes if the flight training industry in New Zealand can work together and get it right there will be more business than any individual provider could handle.

“We have such a good product on offer here, we just need to sell it to our market effectively.”

Alongside the purpose built facility, the biggest asset for the Pilot Academy is the airport and its capacity for growth. The airport has a number of runways, including cross runways and while Air Chathams do fly in and out, space is plentiful. Whanganui’s temperate climate also means more flying days are available and the city offers easy living for students.

Phillip has also found the wider community to be hugely supportive of the Pilot Academy.

“It’s visible so people are aware of it and they support us,” he says.

“We have a network of people we can call upon when we want to get stuff done, and for that we are so fortunate.”

With so many positive attributes, it’s no wonder the Pilot Academy continues to soar.

“We are very excited about what the future will bring, I have a long to-do list, however I truly believe we are well on our way to becoming the premier International Commercial Pilot Academy in New Zealand.