July 17, 2008

Flight Training Centre to Propel MAS Growth

By Marina Emmanuel

MALAYSIA'S first flight training centre for turboprop planes has drawn strong demand from regional airlines and it could become a lucrative business for Malaysia Airlines (MAS).

The centre, based in Subang airport, is already almost fully booked until the end of the year. It started operations last month.

It has a US$10 million (RM32 million) full-flight simulator for planes made by French-Italian turboprop maker Aerei da Trasporto Regionale (ATR). MAS bought the simulator from Canadian firm CAE Inc.

ATR has set up the centre in cooperation with Firefly Sdn Bhd, the low-cost travel arm of MAS, ATR said in a statement released at the Farnborough Airshow in the UK on Tuesday.

Firefly and MASwings, another MAS subsidiary, are each set to get 10 new ATR aircraft which have been sold at US$18.5 million (RM59.6 million) apiece.

"We plan to acquire more simulators later and have another building to accommodate the simulator bays for third-party training use," Firefly managing director Eddy Leong told Business Times in a phone interview.

Leong said a total of 60 Firefly and MASwings pilots are expected to be trained at the new centre this year.

"In addition, we have already begun welcoming regional ATR pilots here for training," he added.

"When we said we are building Firefly as a passenger airline, we not only fly the planes but also stress on training our pilots.

"From a cost perspective, we no longer have to send our pilots for training abroad, they can simply go next door for more training."

The centre is the second training outfit for ATR in Southeast Asia, after the one in Bangkok.

ATR chief executive officer Stephane Mayer said the Bangkok centre, operated jointly with aircraft avionics maker Thales, is reaching saturation point with growing requests from Asian customers.

"The Southeast Asian market needs highly qualified pilots to keep pace with its growth, and we are glad to contribute to this development, in addition to recognising a good opportunity to partner with our customer, Firefly," he said in a statement.

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