When aviation student Sara Krohn realized she’d have the opportunity to travel to Texas from Norway for the first time, she didn’t hesitate.
“I was super excited — I was one of the first to volunteer to go,” Krohn said. “Just the experience of going somewhere else and getting to train both here and in Norway is great.”
Krohn is one of 14 student pilots who arrived in Denton Saturday from Norway’s Pilot Flight Academy. The students will get their first experience flying an airplane as part of a three-month extended private pilot curriculum at the US Aviation Academy, where they’ll receive 45 hours of dual flight and 50 hours of solo flight instruction.
Because Norway trains under regulations from the European Aviation Safety Administration that differ from Federal Aviation Administration training regulations in the U.S., USAA flight instructors received a special permit from the Norwegian Civil Air Authority and EASA to teach a dual enrollment course. Students conducted their first training flights on Cessna 152 planes this weekend.
The academy reached out to US Aviation to establish a partnership that would allow students, who have been in ground school for a year, to get flight time despite the harsh winter conditions that make flying in Norway difficult between October and March, said Seth Hamilton, USAA VP of International and Domestic Training.
“Even with the next couple months being winter, we’re still going to get a lot more sun than they will and clear skies to get this done,” Hamilton said. “I think our ability to train and the cost-efficient aircraft we have — the 152 — meets the requirements so it doesn’t add any additional price to the students to come over here except for their travel.”
Since USAA’s longstanding program to train student pilots from China has taken a hit amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the flight school saw the partnership with PFA as an opportunity to bring in other international students and for USAA instructors to have an advantage among domestic aviation academies.
“We are moving towards a more domestic base but also wanting to get into some different countries,” Hamilton said. “In Norway, they learn English in grade school, so partnering with a different country that also speaks pretty good English is a nice addition along with getting the EASA certification. That part of the puzzle is really cool and unique to not many flight schools in the United States.”
The certification is limited to the partnership with PFA at USAA’s Denton location, but students say the agreement also gives them an experience they can’t get elsewhere.
“If you train in the U.S. you get a different certificate which isn’t valid in Europe, but now the school has trained instructors to train us the way we do in Europe, so we get to fly in Texas and still get the European license,” student Marielle Hellem said. “There’s nowhere else in the world you can do that — it’s a once in a lifetime experience.”
They will also have the option of completing an FAA Private Pilot certificate while earning credit hours towards their EASA certification, which will allow them to pilot private aircraft in the U.S.
The partnership will bring 120-150 students to Denton annually, but those numbers may increase in the future. Three more groups are scheduled to follow the current class of students in February, April and May.
The students will receive instrument and multi-engine training when they return to Norway and expect to graduate in the fall of this year or spring of 2022, depending on how flight conditions affect training.
For now, they say they are focused on enjoying the journey.
“At first I was a bit doubtful and I wanted to stay in Norway, but now I’m very pleased,” student Sabastiaan Walig said. “I’m looking at the weather right now in Norway and it’s minus 20 degrees, snow every day.
“We’re just excited to see the sun, we haven’t seen it in half a year,” Hellem said, laughing.