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Full throttle into the future

Perth College has linked arms with the Wright brothers by becoming the first college in Scotland to operate a commercial training school in aeronautical engineering.

Two years ago as part of an effort to widen its commercial activities Perth led a salvage mission for the world's longest established aero-engineering school. Air Service Training (AST) was set up in 1936 to support the development of flying across the Empire but was within weeks of closure when the college offered to take operations under its wing.

Now the school is a subsidiary company offering more Civil Aviation Authority-approved courses than competitors south of the border and attracting rising student numbers from around the globe. Housed on a purpose-built campus at Scone airport, AST is home to 81 uniform-clad apprentices sent for training by British Airways, Aer Lingus, Gulf Air, Bristow Helicopters, Malawi, Bahrain and Oman.

The course lasts two and a half years and prepares students for their first CAA engineering licence, which entitles them to further training by their employer on specific aircraft.

Within a disciplined, almost military environment, they learn basic engineering skills, and cover all aspects of maintaining and servicing aircraft as well as the theories of flight and power. Practical experience is provided by a six-month placement at BA in Glasgow for fixed-wing aircraft, and at Bristow in Aberdeen for helicopters.

The religious and cultural needs of the student body, dominated by males from Muslim countries, are attended to on campus. As well as individual study bedrooms with en suite showers, the residence provides a canteen serving halal food, a mosque, sports facilities and a 24-hour warden service.

Retention of the 50 staff after Perth's takeover ensured continuation of AST's 98 per cent pass rate, a factor which has gained the school world recognition and customer loyalty. "One of the main strengths of AST was its excellent training school and the calibre of staff employed," Mike Webster, Perth's principal and AST chairman, said. "But when we took it over there was an allied flying school which faced strong competition and had become a financial drain. "

Mr Webster added: "We recognised that aviation is a growth industry, that many parts of the world were opening up to it and although there were many risks in taking on the school, we considered them worth taking. "

The flying school was closed, a marketing manager employed and within months AST was generating new interest in an assortment of short courses in specific areas. Mr Webster says that the engineering school benefits from being under the wing of a larger organisation which can provide language training, computing, libraries and administration.

But Perth, the most southerly establishment in the University of the Highlands and Islands project, has also gained through the partnership. Last September the college introduced an HNC in aeronautical engineering and plans to run an HND next academic year. The courses, which use both AST and college staff, aim to provide the basic qualifications from which students can proceed to CAA-approved courses.

Aware of the dynamism of the industry, the college and AST are together poised to meet the requirements of the Joint Aviation Regulations, the new safety standards being developed by the European Union.

"The takeover was a daunting task for us, but it has paid off and AST has now become part of the grand plan," Mr Webster said.

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