Flight School Opens at Salinas Airport

When Arnold Failano was ready to realize his childhood dream of learning to fly an airplane last fall, he had to leave Salinas to do it. Salinas was without a flight school since Air Trails/Verticare closed after the death of owner Jim Cheatham early in 2009 and Light Sport Airplanes closed later in the year. Failano started his training in Watsonville. But when San Jose-based AeroDynamic Aviation opened at Salinas Municipal Airport in April, he switched.

Failano said that when he was growing up in the Philippines, “It was a dream to even fly in an airplane, let alone fly one.”

Failano, assistant head nurse at Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital, said flying lessons were a gift from his wife, Rachel, when he completed master’s degrees in nursing and business last fall.

The location wasn’t the only reason Failano switched to AeroDynamic.

“You have to be compatible with the instructor,” said Failano, who said he has a good rapport with Conklin, who heads the Salinas operation of San-Jose based AeroDynamic Aviation.

Failano, 44, said flying a small plane — a four-seat Cessna 172 — “is to be soaring like an eagle.” He gets a thrill by being in the air yet being “so close to the ground, you can see the beauty. You can be as low as 1,000 feet.”

Conklin said Failano is like most flight students — he plans to be a recreational pilot.

Failano doesn’t have to look at his flight log to know how much time he has spent

in the air — “38 hours.” Conklin said Failano “is getting close” to flying solo

“There’s no rush” to getting a student to fly solo, Conklin emphasized — the student and instructor must be comfortable with student’s skill.

The instruction isn’t just in the cockpit. There were six weeks of classes before he flew, and Failano is studying a 1,048-page book on aviation regulations.

“You can’t go into it half-hearted,” Failano said. Learning to fly a plane is 10 times more complicated than driving a car, he said. “At least with a car you can stop.”

When he flies solo, Failano knows he will have to fly regularly — he plans on twice a week at first — to maintain his skills.

The average flight student will spend $7,000 to $10,000 by the time he goes solo, Conklin said. Plane rentals run $100 an hour.

AeroDynamic, owned by Zdravko Podolski, has 23 planes, three of which are usually in Salinas. If more planes are required in Salinas “we can ramp up fairly quickly.”

Podolski said a third of students “want to make a career of it.” He is working on bringing in foreign students to take their initial flight training in Salinas.

“It’s a pretty ideal location” with open spaces nearby, Podolski said.

AeroDynamic Aviation will offer a free seminar on flying at 10 a.m. Saturday at Salinas Municipal Airport as part of national Learn To Fly day. Flights for $59 will be available.