CRESTVIEW — Emerald Coast Aviation, the fixed-base operator at Crestview Bob Sikes Airport, recently added a twin-engine Beechcraft B-55 "Baron" to its fleet. Flight students can qualify for their multi-engine licenses on the aircraft to help alleviate a nationwide commercial pilot shortage.
CRESTVIEW — Self-described "airport bums" John Hall and Brad Bien ran their eyes lovingly over Emerald Coast Aviation's newest fleet acquisition, a Beechcraft B-55 "Baron."
"Oh, I like that airplane," Hall said.
The aircraft enthusiasts and pilots' reaction was music to flight instructor Michael "Mike" Pahel's ears. The Crestview Bob Sikes Airport fixed-base operator recently leased the twin-engine aircraft for its flight school and for private pilots to rent.
WATCH: Video of Mike Pahel simulating a Beechcraft engine failure in the Redbird simulator>>
"It will offer more training opportunities in Crestview," Emerald Coast Aviation President Jonathan Dunn said.
The country is experiencing a shortage of commercial airline pilots, resulting in some carriers canceling their flights, Dunn and Pahel said, citing a Wall Street Journal report.
Students who train on the Baron can qualify for multi-engine pilots' certification, a prerequisite for flying commercial aircraft.
"The airlines are screaming for more pilots right now," Pahel said. "People can train for airline jobs right here in Crestview."
'A very cool airplane'
Emerald Coast Aviation is banking on the plane's appeal to experienced pilots. Though originally built in 1980, the Baron's original owners wouldn't recognize it today, Pahel said.
"It's been completely upgraded" with a new instrument cluster, including a Garmin "enhanced situational awareness" GPS system, Pahel said.
It includes the aircraft's digitally installed instrument-approach manual.
"This is a very cool airplane," Pahel said. "It's sweet. We will rent it out to experienced pilots who want to get someplace fast."
Compared to Emerald Coast's single-engine Cessna 172S, which can reach destinations such as New Orleans, Orlando or Atlanta in about two hours, the six-passenger Beechcraft can make the trip in 45 minutes to an hour.
Pahel said the plane is perfect for "a family with luggage, a group of guys off to play golf (and) football fans off to a big game.
"This can get you there faster than the airlines because you don't have to go through all the bureaucracy and TSA stuff," Pahel said.
An integral part of Emerald Coast Aviation's flight school curriculum is "flight time" in its Redbird simulator. Training in the high-tech full-motion machine counts toward instructional hours.
"You can practice and perfect twin-engine training safely on the ground," Pahel said, before actually taking to the air.
Licensed pilots can also rent time in the Redbird to keep their licenses current or upgraded at less cost than renting an aircraft, he said.
"The sim offers huge advantages for multi-engine students or pilots who need to maintain their proficiency for insurance purposes," Pahel said.
The addition of the Beechcraft coupled with the airlines' demand for pilots will expand Emerald Coast's flight school substantially beyond its more than 15 current students Pahel said.
Want to fly?
Emerald Coast Aviation offers flight instruction and aircraft rentals at Crestview Bob Sikes Airport. Students can purchase 10- and 20-hour blocks of instruction at a reduced rate over individual lessons. Rates vary by type of aircraft. Contact Michael Pahel, 398-6739, 398-2651 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Email News Bulletin Staff Writer Brian Hughes, follow him on Twitter or call 850-682-6524.