Corporate pilots from around the globe — and across the street — soon will trek to a new FlightSafety International training center at Port Columbus to fly multimillion-dollar flight simulators.
FlightSafety said yesterday that it will build the center in two phases on an 8.7-acre site on Bridgeway Avenue, across the street from the headquarters of NetJets, its biggest customer.
Both companies are subsidiaries of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway.
“This is incredibly good news for Port Columbus,” said Michael Boyd of the Boyd Group, an aviation-consulting firm in Evergreen, Colo. “This will bring in even more pilots from all over the world for training.”
The first phase is expected to be completed by the end of the year. It will allow FlightSafety to expand its training operations and house flight simulators for the aircraft NetJets has ordered as part of a fleet upgrade, which includes the purchase of 670 aircraft for $17.6 billion over 10 years.
FlightSafety’s Port Columbus operation now is located on N. Hamilton Road and has 136 employees. The company has training centers throughout the United States and in other countries.
“We’ve been at our current facility since 1999 and have outgrown it,” said FlightSafety spokesman Steve Phillips of the Port Columbus site.
He declined to divulge the cost of the new center.
“This is a good thing for us,” said John Malmborg, president of the NetJets pilots union. “The Hamilton Road facility was getting a little crowded. … We’re very happy with the training we receive from FlightSafety.”
It seems fitting that the FlightSafety training center and NetJets headquarters will soon be in such close proximity.
NetJets announced plans in 2008 for a $200 million campus that would include its headquarters as well as FlightSafety operations.
The project was derailed by the recession, said Robin Holderman, the Columbus Regional Airport Authority’s chief asset-and-development officer.
NetJets eventually built a smaller, $21 million headquarters building that opened in April 2012.
FlightSafety’s “lease was running out and they had to figure out what to do,” said Bill Noe, NetJets’ chief operating officer. “There was land across from us, and they made the deal.”
About 82 percent of NetJets’ 2,500 active pilots travel to Columbus twice a year for training at FlightSafety, Noe said.
“That’s what justifies putting the new center here,” he said. “This will be a state-of-the-art facility that expands the footprint for FlightSafety and will bring more pilots here for training.”
As new flight simulators are added at the center, a higher percentage of NetJets pilots will train here, as will pilots from other corporate aviation departments.
The initial 55,000-square-foot FlightSafety phase of the center will house six full flight simulators, 13 advanced-technology pilot and maintenance training classrooms, and 12 briefing and debriefing rooms.
Phase two will include up to 90,000 square feet of additional space and could lead to the hiring of additional employees.
“It will grow based on our needs and our customers’ demands,” FlightSafety spokesman Phillips said, adding that a construction start date for the second phase has not been set.
The annual lease rate for the Bridgeway Avenue site is $152,000 for 30 years, with options that could extend it 20 more years, said Holderman, of the airport authority.
Flight simulators cost less to operate than actual aircraft, and a simulator crash never results in serious injury, death or damage to the aircraft, Boyd said.
“Simulators might cost $600 to $700 an hour to operate,” he said. “That’s expensive, but only a tenth of the cost of flying the airplane.”
The new FlightSafety facility adds to the development momentum in and around Port Columbus. Daimler Group has begun construction on a $21 million Air Side Business Park, and the Fairfield Inn & Suites Hotel at the airport is set for an August opening.
“It is an active place,” Holderman said. “And FlightSafety is another high-quality tenant.”