Epic Flight Academy at the New Smyrna Beach airport has trained more than 5,000 pilots from more than 80 countries in the 20 years it has been in business.
Now founder Danny Perna is expanding the school to include courses in aviation maintenance.
“We train 200 to 300 professional pilots a year,” Mr. Perna said. “This is a direct result of the pilot shortage. We have to continually expand our fleet and staff to keep up. Our newest initiative is in response to another need -- aviation technicians.”
The flight academy is breaking ground on a 20,000-square-foot building that will accommodate 200 students for its new Aviation Maintenance Technician School. The new school building and program for maintenance technicians is expected to be up and running in 2020.
“There is a growing demand for technical training,” said Josh Rawlins, chief operating officer of Epic Flight Academy. “Vocational and STEM classes are in demand, and we will be accepting 12 students into the initial class with a new class beginning every three months.”
Mr. Rawlins added the school will add 20 new jobs to Epic’s roster.
Other than Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, no other aviation mechanics schools exist in Volusia County, according to Dr. Cindy Lovell, Epic's director of education.
Dr. Lovell explained Epic's focus will be on the vocational side, allowing high school students who have an interest in a trade to have the opportunity to start their career in two years. She said they can work anywhere in the world with the FAA certificate they earn at Epic.
Money may be one reason there aren’t other schools locally. “It's very costly and time-consuming to start an FAA Part 147 Aviation Maintenance school,” Dr. Lovell explained. “Epic will have more than $2 million and four years invested when we open the doors to our school.”
Back when Mr. Perna opened the flight school in 1999, he had one plane and one employee – himself. Now the school’s fleet includes more than two dozen aircraft and simulators, and the staff hovers around 130.
Mr. Perna is a third generation aviator. His grandfather, Anthony Perna was a B17 Flight instructor in the Army Air Corps during World War II, who became a colonel, finishing his career working at the Pentagon. Mr. Perna’s father, Tony Perna, had a successful career with international aircraft sales.
"I first started my aviation career as an aircraft mechanic and then became a flight instructor,” Mr. Perna explained. “Starting the flight school was the most natural and obvious decision. Now, 20 years later, I am able to give back based on how I originally started. College was not the path for me, and I feel if I had not become an aircraft mechanic, my life would have been completely different."
The flight school is known for hiring its graduates to work as flight instructors, and Mr. Perna anticipates the same will happen with the aviation technicians who graduate from the school.
“We love hiring our graduates, because we know they’ve received the best training,” Mr. Perna said. “As our fleet expands, so does our need for qualified technicians. We look forward to having a steady supply of graduates to take these new positions.”
The flight school is planning a fall event to celebrate its 20 years in business during its fourth annual Aviation Scholarship Bash. “We have a lot to celebrate,” Mr. Perna added, “and we are looking forward to the next 20 years.”