FTN met up with Rob Clarke, owner and CEO of the recently formed Norwich Aviation Centre (NAC), at the academy’s new premises at Norwich Airport. Housed in the airport’s former Park & Ride building, one could be forgiven for thinking that it’s not the most prestigious location for a new flight academy to set-up shop, but it’s proved to be a wise decision.
Clarke explains: “First, it’s a great building with sufficient space for us to grow our operations and the flight operations centre. Second, the location puts us squarely in the public eye. Rather than being tucked away around the back of the airport, where airport visitors don’t tend to stray, we’re right in the middle of the action. You’d be surprised how many walk-ins we’ve had in the short time we’ve been operating here, with passers-by curious to find out about what it takes to learn to fly and delighted to learn that, no, one doesn’t have to be a millionaire to get a PPL.”
A short walk across the car park gets one ‘airside’ to Clarke’s training fleet, currently comprising three PA28 Warrior IIs and one PA28 Arrow. Clarke says that the school will be adding a Diamond DA42 twin-engine trainer (and DA42 sim) to the fleet as the operation grows and the school adds commercial licences and ratings to its current list of training programmes.
“The plan is to grow the school from a DTO undertaking PPL training to commercial ATO over the next few months,” says Clarke. “Finances are such that we could have done it straight away, but it felt more sensible to grow the school organically and get a proper footing at the airport first, before launching into commercial pilot training, which is the ultimate direction we’re heading.”
The idea to establish a school at Norwich began in 2022 when Clarke discussed the idea with his friend Captain Howard Barber, a former BA pilot and current senior instructor with over 30 years of experience in the training industry, who has taken on the role of CFI and Head of Training at NAC.
Clarke is a passionate pilot himself but his career to date has been one spent on the high seas rather than in the air. A recently retired ship’s captain of 24 years standing, Clarke has extensive experience in the maritime industry. Transferring hard-earned principles of safety, efficiency and teamwork to the aviation industry, Clarke says he aims to create an environment at NAC where students feel not only like customers but also like valued members of a vibrant aviation community.
Under Clarke and Barber’s tenure, one of the founding principles for NAC is guaranteeing financial security for its customers, and with this tenet in mind they have created the NAC ‘Fair Flight Finance Policy’.
Clarke explains: “At NAC we are implementing a new approach to payment and student protection in light of the collapse of multiple flight training schools in 2023. We aim to address the issue of students losing money by offering our Fair Flight Finance Policy, essentially putting to bed the long time issue of block booking and paying up front in favour of a pay as you go approach.”
NAC’s Fair Flight Policy ensures that students don’t have to pay upfront for their training courses and yet can still benefit from traditional discounted block-booking rates, applied as a back-end discount.
For example, when signing up to a 10-hour training block, the student will pay the full, undiscounted hourly rate for the first eight hours of training and then pay nothing for the remaining two hours.
If students do want to pay sums upfront then Clarke says that they’re not going to turn them away but will insist that they choose an independent financial protection scheme or opt for an escrow arrangement with a cap of £5,000 to safeguard students’ investment through a third party. “By implementing these measures, NAC aims to promote a long-overdue change in the aviation industry, ensuring student protection and fostering transparency in flight training. In short – it’s time for change!” Clarke adds.
The founding principles in establishing NAC was Safety, Integrity and Transparency which is depicted by the laminar flow three-wave company logo.
“Safety comes from flying only well maintained first class, advanced avionics aircraft and having the most experienced team of commercial instructors and staff supporting NAC. Our founders Howard Barber, Simon Rolfe and Stephen Jones have set the standards. NAC is then further supported by respected instructors such as Linda Smith, John Shaw, Lauri Ling, David Easton, Jonathan Stamp and also by our operations team Henry Higgins, Tracey Hamilton and Max Wright. NAC is positioning to become an amazing customer focussed environment in which to learn to fly,” Clarke explains.
“Integrity comes from our open approach to our SMS, fair, open and clear pricing and trading terms, and our open approach to our safety reporting culture. Transparency comes from our open approach to our customers and our software system, Flight Schedule Pro, which the students have access to so they can view their accounts, transactions and training records whenever it suits them. Full transparency is key!”
Currently offering PPL and associated ratings training, Clarke says that they’re already very busy with new PPL students and aircraft hirers, and that they plan to launch commercial pilot training programmes next year. “We’re looking forward to launching commercial pilot training at NAC very soon and count ourselves fortunate to be based at an accessible international airport, providing an ideal training environment for future generations of commercial pilots,” says Clarke.