Kralendijk – Although the island’s inhabitants have traditionally been known as excellent seafarers, a growing army of “home-grown” pilots makes clear that flying also seems to be in the blood of the Bonerians.
In the meantime, 9 local pilots are already flying for local airlines EZ Air and Medicair N.V. In addition, there are also several pilots from local descent still completing necessary training to be allowed to fly as a commercial airline pilot.
Local airline EZ Air plays an important role in the bringing together of the largest group of local pilots. “From the outset it was the intention to bring some of our best pilots back home,” says EZ Air Owner René Winkel.
The owner of Air Ambulance company Medicair N.V. and EZ Air BV says that his determination to hire local, sometimes has led to additional costs. “When we started flying last year, some of our boys were still serving out their contracts at other airlines. We have paid the penalty for their premature resignation, which in some cases amounted to a few thousand dollars per person. In this way we brought them aboard before the start of the flights with our new Beechcraft 1900 aircraft”, said Winkel.
Unlike many other airlines, EZ Air also pays for the training and type rating required to operate the Beeachcraft 1900 aircraft with which the airline flies. This involves ten thousand dollars a year.
Brothers Franklin and Danielson Antoin are two prominent figures in the growing group of Bonerian pilots. Both are in the meantime employed by EZ Air as respectively Chief Pilot and Captain on the Beechcraft 1900.
Elder brother Franklin (1979) gained enormous experience as a pilot with, among others, Medicair, Divi Divi Air, BonairExcel / DAE, InselAir and now at EZ Air.
Younger brother Danielson (1992) started his career more than 10 years ago at EZ Air, when the the fledgling airline started a shuttle service between Bonaire and Curaçao with the 9-seat Britten-Normander BN2 Islander aircraft. After his initial period at EZ, Danielson was hired by Sint Maarten based Winair, where he managed to climb up to Captain on the Twinotter aircraft of that airline.
Danielson, or Danny as he generally called by family and friends, is part of a select group that has been trained to land at the Juancho Irausquin airport of Saba; the shortest commercial runway in the world.
Franklin Antoin also plays an important role in Bonerian aviation in another way. In 2011 he stood at the cradle of Falki Aviation Bonaire which, using a private aircraft, offers young Bonerian pilots the opportunity to follow pilot training.
“Falki Aviation wants to generate interest among young people to become an airline pilot. We organize information and orientation sessions for this purpose. We also provide private lessons to those who want to learn how to fly. We now do that on both Bonaire and Curaçao”, said Antoin.
There are now about 30 pilots who have started their flying career at Falki Aviation. According to Antoin, there are unfortunately also the necessary dropouts, which for various reasons fail to complete the training.
It requires considerable perseverance and a thick wallet to make it as a commercial pilot. Those who are able to obtain the basic certificate locally, will still have to follow a 5-month training abroad to obtain the license as commercial airline pilot.
Another emerging Bonairean talent, Jeandré Cicilia, not only saved for years from his income at employer Flamingo TV, but also worked all weekends to generate additional income for his training in Florida. Cicilia hopes to complete the training in about two months from now.
After the many years of training, the next challenge for local pilots is not only to actually secure a job as a pilot to provide a monthly income, but also to have the ability to be able to gain the essential flight hours in order to be able to move on to the position of Captain or co-pilot on a larger aircraft.