Resort Scenery Offers Unique Aerial Experience

OCEAN CITY — Blending professional instruction with scenic views, Ocean Aviation has been training pilots on the Eastern Shore for the last four years.

According to Michael Freed, owner and chief instructor, Ocean Aviation will be doing more of the same, on a larger scale, in the years to come.

“We’re definitely looking at expansion here in Ocean City,” confirmed Freed.

A pilot for 40 years, Freed has instructed for half of that time. Four years ago, he recognized a unique opportunity to fill a previously open niche in Ocean City: that of a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved flight academy.

“We can teach in fewer hours than a normal academy,” said Freed.

Because his school went through the long and arduous process of gaining FAA approval, something Freed reports only about 5 percent of academies have achieved, Ocean Aviation can graduate pilots with fewer hours flown than many other institutes. For example, Freed pointed out that a standard commercial pilot’s license usually takes about 250 hours of flight time to achieve. Ocean Aviation can do it in 190 hours.

Having FAA approval requires passing continuous inspections as well as using a standard curriculum between every instructor. The curriculum is something that Freed is proud of, especially since it takes advantage of technology to streamline instruction.

“Before every lesson, you watch that same lesson on your computer,” he said.

By watching a digital simulation of the day’s scheduled flight, pilots are given a chance to familiarize themselves with everything they will need to do long before they get into the air.

“That makes it very, very efficient,” said Freed.

Since its launch, Ocean Aviation, located at the Ocean City Municipal Airport, has been growing steadily. Freed revealed that the academy recently received approval to train foreign students, a considerable privilege given how closely the Department of Homeland Security (DHLS) scrutinizes flight academies. Since 9/11, tight national restrictions have governed who is allowed to train non-citizens to fly. Freed, who lived in New York during the attack on the World Trade Center, asserted that Ocean Aviation would be sensitive to the circumstances and live up to DHLS standards when agreeing to enroll foreign students.

With the DHLS approval, Ocean Aviation will see its body of students expand, something Freed said is a continual process. He attributes much of his academy’s success to operating on the Eastern Shore.

“It’s a phenomenal location,” he said.

Freed listed the scenery and visuals around Ocean City as big draws for attracting potential pilots. Since the school is located only a few miles from the Atlantic, views from the air are astounding in Freed’s opinion. Besides offering a bird’s eye view of the shore and natural terrain that comprises most of Worcester and the surrounding counties, flights launched from Ocean Aviation are able to reach major cities such as Baltimore or Washington D.C. in under an hour.

“There’s no traffic, no tolls, no stoplights,” said Freed.

Another perk to flying over Ocean City is that pilots are able to avoid the rigid airspace restrictions that blanket metropolitan areas. Freed noted that Ocean Aviation is located in Class G airspace, which means there are no real restrictions on  flight, a fact that makes training quicker and less complicated.

The combination of open airspace plus an FAA approved curriculum means that Ocean Aviation can produce pilots in much less time overall than many prospective students expect, said Freed. Speed is important since pilots may become scarce in the near future.

“There is going to be a tremendous shortage of pilots in the next two to three years,” he said.

In 2007, the FAA raised the mandatory retirement age of airline pilots from 60 to 65 years old. All of the pilots who were 60 at the time of the raise will approach the new cap of 65 next year. With so many pilots likely retiring all at once, Freed predicted that it might come to the point where planes are grounded due to lack of personnel.

However, he did note that interest in aviation seems on the rise, with new students graduating every day to replace vacancies.

“These people will be flying your airlines in a few years,” he said of his current batch of pilots-in-training.

Freed did add that not every student to enroll at Ocean Aviation needs to look for a career in the commercial field. A private license, which can be achieved in as little as 40 flight hours on the school’s accelerated track, allows an individual to fly most craft as long as it’s not being done for pay. The freedom provided by such a license is incredible, said Freed, who favorably contrasted flying to riding a motorcycle or captaining a boat.

Even for those who haven’t developed an interest in flying, Freed was confident that all it would take to kindle a lifelong passion is one trip behind the yoke.

“I encourage everybody to do a discovery flight,” he said, adding that such a flight would only cost about $150 and would give an individual a chance to learn the basics and handle the controls.

For more information on Ocean Aviation, contact Freed at 410-213-8400.