By Vanesa Brashier, email@example.com
The New Year is a time of beginnings – starting diets and exercise plans, saving money and getting organized – and it is also a time to consider new hobbies, skills or careers. If your dream of learning to fly seemed too lofty in the past, a flight school in Cleveland is putting those dreams within reach.
Wings Level Flight Training, owned by Cassie Campbell Yeager and operated out of the Cleveland Municipal Airport, opened for business in January 2019. Since that time, dozens of people have enrolled in classes and roughly 15-20 students fly at least once a week in pursuit of their private pilot licenses.
The flight school has five instructors and four airplanes, so getting worked into the schedule is relatively easy for anyone committed to the program.
“It’s expensive but there are sometimes scholarships available. To get your private pilot license, the cost is between $6,000 to $8,000, or slightly more. Many of the students pay as they go, spending $170 per week per lesson,” said Yeager. As the national average of getting a private pilot license is $10,000, Wings Level Flight Training is a bargain.
For students looking at future careers as pilots, the initial costs can be weighed out to the earning potential of pilots once they clock more flight hours and obtain more certifications.
“With the shortage of airline pilots, the job market is competitive and companies often offer sign-on bonuses,” Yeager said.
In order to pursue a private pilot license, the Federal Aviation Agency requires that a person must: be 16 years old; have a government-issued identification card; be able to read, speak and understand English; perform basic math problems that include adding, multiplication, subtracting and dividing; and be able to pass a third-class physical. Pilots must be at least 17 years of age to receive a private pilot license. A private pilot applicant must have at least 40 hours of flight time, which includes at least 20 hours with an instructor and 10 hours of solo flight time.
“Once you get your private pilot license, then you can pursue an instrument certificate, which allows you to fly in the clouds. From there you have your commercial certificate, which requires you to have 250 flight hours. With that certificate, you can actually go and fly for places like skydiving or pipeline companies. You can start making money,” Yeager said. “From there you can get your certified flight instructor license, and that’s when you can start teaching people. When you start teaching, the goal is to get 1,500 flight hours, so you can go apply at major airlines or charter companies.”
Yeager, a graduate of Cleveland High School and now 23 years old, earned her private pilot license when she was a high school senior. She was instructed by Cleveland Municipal Airport’s fixed base operator Clay Dean. Yeager now flies Lear jets for a private charter company based out of Hobby Airport in Houston and oversees the flight school when she isn’t flying. Claire Chapman, who trained at Wings Level Flight Training, handles the day-to-day operations of the flight school.
“I only have five days off per month because I am on call the rest of the month, but I only fly about 7-8 days a month and am on salary,” Yeager said. “I really like it. I will never be able to fly international with the types of planes I fly, but that’s okay. I love the customer service aspect of flying for a charter plane company. I like being able to build friendships with the people I am flying.”
Through her contacts at multiple airports across the region, she has helped spread the news about Cleveland Municipal Airport.
“When I tell people we have a flight school in Cleveland, they seem surprised, mostly because they don’t realize how close we are to the Houston area. I have a couple of students who drive in from the Sugarland area to Cleveland. Not only are our highways perfectly suited for this location, so is our airspace,” she explained. “We are right outside of Bravo Airspace, which surrounds Bush International Airport and Hobby Airport. We are on the outskirts of that.”
The Cleveland airport is surrounded by mostly rural land, which Yeager believes is ideal for training.
“We have room to work on maneuvers. We do not have a towered airport, so that is perfect for take-offs and landings. In order to get that towered airport training, we can just pop over to Conroe, which isn’t even a 10-minute flight. The Cleveland airport is in an ideal location and a lot of people don’t realize that,” she said.
The mandatory retirement age for commercial pilots has been pushed up to 65, which has created a pilot shortage among the major airlines, according to Yeager. Many of the pilots pushed out of their positions by age at the major carriers, but not quite ready to retire, are now flying for charter services, she said.
“My main goal through this school is to spread awareness of this rewarding career. When I am at career fairs, I don’t try to steer people away from their goals or going to college. I am a huge proponent of following your dreams and going to college,” she said. “But I always ask them, ‘Is there any career you can start right now while you are in high school? They usually say no. Then I explain that they can start learning to be a pilot while they are in high school and have jobs out there for them in just a short period of time.”
The school’s manager – Claire Chapman – is a 2017 graduate of Tarkington High School and one of the students who decided on a different career path after completing two years at Blinn College.
“I thought about becoming a physical therapist but I really had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I couldn’t see myself doing that job every day. It wasn’t my passion. Then I thought about being a nurse like my sister, but I don’t want to be around sick people all day,” Chapman said. “In April, it occurred to me that I have friends who are pilots and I am that weirdo who likes going to the airport to fly somewhere. I called Cassie on a whim to find out about the training. Now here I am working on my instrument certification.”
Like Yeager, Chapman credits the environment of the airport with part of her success.
“One of the really good things about the Cleveland airport is there are so many really good people who just want to help you be successful,” she said. “It’s opened up a whole new world for me. It’s my passion now. I am all in.”
For more information on Wings Level Flight Training, stop by Cleveland Municipal Airport, 17699 FM 787 W, Cleveland, call 346-364-0577, or go online to www.wingslevelflight.com.
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Great story! I have always had a fear of flying but would fly with either of these young ladies as I have met them both, know their parents and the outstanding quality of their character and intelligence they possess. Cleveland is proud to call these ladies “home grown” as they will represent our city well in the future.