Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

New Pilot Training Center Opens at Former WWII Training Site

Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

New Pilot Training Center Opens at Former WWII Training Site

Article excerpt

TUSCALOOSA | The Tuscaloosa site where the military once trained fighter pilots for World War II is now training a new generation of aviators -- this time for civilian aircraft.

General Aviation Center has opened a new facility at the Tuscaloosa Regional Airport. The privately owned center is on airport property that once housed the Alabama Institute of Aeronautics Inc., which trained U.S. and British pilots for combat from the late 1930s until the mid-1940s.

The wartime institute's hangar and barracks are gone. But a new building stands on part of the site of the old training center, said Abe Alibrahim, administrator for General Aviation Center, which opened in January at 7232 Robert Cardinal Airport Road.

General Aviation Center does aircraft maintenance and operates a pilot training school. It's the airport's third fixed base operator, joining Dixie Air and Bama Air.

"I don't sell aviation fuel, but I hope to look into that later," Alibrahim said.

He also said he would like to build an aviation supplies store as an addition to his hangar so that pilots could fly into the airport and get the parts they need.

A major feature of the more than 10,000-square-foot center is its training classroom with separate individual computerized training workstations. The building's upstairs has two unfinished rooms where additional pilot training facilities and training equipment could be added, he said.

Alibrahim would not say how much the facility cost other than that it was a large investment for him.

For the past 20 years, Alibrahim operated a similar center at the Bessemer Airport.

"I have been in the aviation business for 30 years, and this is the fourth operation I have started," he said.

Many of his customers at Bessemer were from Tuscaloosa and West Alabama. That helped put Tuscaloosa on his radar screen.

He said he first looked at locating a fixed-base center in Tuscaloosa in 1994, shortly after Mercedes announced plans to build an auto factory in nearby Vance. It did not make sense at that time, he said.

But since then, Tuscaloosa has grown. Mercedes and its automotive suppliers have expanded the city's manufacturing base and enrollment growth at the University of Alabama has made the city an attractive place for a pilot training school, Alibrahim said.

About 16 months ago, he decided to move his operations from Bessemer to Tuscaloosa. Construction of the center's building was completed in October and the interior was finished during the next two months. Alibrahim said he hopes to have a grand opening during the Tuscaloosa Airshow on March 31 and April 1.

"Tuscaloosa in the next five to 10 years -- this airport is going to be a tremendous asset for the city," he said in explaining why he moved his business here.

Growth also is occurring nationally in general aviation -- the non-commercial airline segment of the industry -- and there are projections that the nation could face a shortage of professional pilots over the next 10 to 15 years as many retire, Alibrahim said. …

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