When Dennis Kozacek started to fly private aircrafts at just 19 years old, he never realized his passion for flying might turn into a career and teaching opportunity.
Today, Kozacek, 69, can look back on his 20 years as a pilot in the United States Navy and 31 years flying with FedEx. His career path even opened the door to a life of flying for his youngest son, Carter Kozacek, 23, a pilot training for the United States Air Force, and his brother-in-law, who became a flight instructor and worked his way up to flying 757s for United Airlines.
It was only six years after Kozacek earned his pilot’s license that he received an instructor rating and carried out his teaching while he was in the Navy and worked as a check airman for FedEx.
“Flying in general is just one of those things that you kind of get hooked on. It’s the sensation of being in the air and being able to see, and it makes you feel kind of like a bird,” Kozacek says. “I enjoy instructing. It can be frustrating at times, but it’s very rewarding because usually (you’re training) somebody who has the thrill of aviation like you do.”
Since his retirement, Kozacek has spent time volunteering as a mentor to aviation students working in the flight simulator. He also works part-time as a flight instructor at ATC Camas, a flight training and aircraft rental facility at Grove Field, which currently has about 10 students.
ATC Camas came under new ownership in mid-March and Aaron Vanschoiach, the new owner, wants to grow his local flight training and aircraft rental business.
He plans to hire both full-time and part-time flight instructors, and then provide more plane rentals for the public. Eventually, he also wants to offer aircraft maintenance services.
While the addition of a new maintenance facility is still in the future, Vanschoiach said he is already taking resumes for that position.
Right now, the flight school only has two part-time instructors, and Vanschoiach said he’s had to turn students away.
To meet the increased demand, he plans to hire two full-time instructors immediately with the goal of eventually having six instructors on the field. Anyone who refers a certified flight instructor to ATC will, upon that instructor’s hire, receive $500 or 10 hours of free airplane rental time.
Kozacek says being a flight instructor can be both satisfying personally and for one’s career.
“It’s the kind of smile on (a student’s) face the first time they go up on an airplane, just being able to see things from a different perspective, being able to see things from high off the ground,” he says. “Eventually, they learn the skills that it takes a little bit at a time. Once they accomplish those skills, there’s a great sense of accomplishment.”
Kozacek says there is a shortage of airline and military pilots right now, and that, in order to even be qualified to fly for the airlines, a person must have at least a commercial pilot’s license, which requires 1,200 to 1,500 hours of flight time.
Kozacek recommends becoming a flight instructor — something you can do after about 250 hours of flying — and then getting paid to finish your commercial pilot’s license flight time requirements.
“Everybody who is in the airlines now either started as a private pilot like this, or in the military,” he says. “Those are really the only two ways to get there.”
The students at ATC learn to fly using a Cessna 150, which was originally owned by Kozacek and then sold to the school.
The Cessna 150 is probably the most popular and cost efficient trainer, Vanschoiach says: “They’re a very nice flying aircraft and they’re affordable to fly.”
There is no age limit for students to begin flight training, but to fly an aircraft solo they must be 16 years old, Vanschoiach says.
However, in the private pilot training, students are required to have 20 hours of flying with an instructor, so some students will work toward taking their first solo flight on their 16th birthday.
The cost for one hour of training is about $125, and includes the instructor’s pay, fuel and plane rental costs.
“I’ve told people before, about $6,000 and you should be able to leave with your pilot’s license,” Vanschoiach says.
The amount of time it takes a student to obtain their pilot’s license depends on their involvement and dedication, he adds.
“I know some guys like to fly a lesson a week, an hour a week, so that will take over a year to accomplish,” he says. “And then there are other guys that will fly several hours a week and they can get it done in a few months.”
After the addition of flight instructors, ATC will be able to serve about 30 students.
Kozacek encourages people who are thinking about getting their pilot’s license to sign up for an introductory flight with an instructor. This way, they can find out if flying is something that they can get hooked on and something they can stick with.
“(ATC Camas) I think, is going to become very viable,” Kozacek says. “This is a great environment to learn how to fly. It’s a nice, quant airport. It’s very friendly, and it’s a great opportunity for somebody to get involved in aviation.”