THICK fog on the road to Hamilton’s airport gives way to dazzling sunshine and a cluster of students waiting for their chance to fly.
The group is part of Sharp Airlines’ cadet pilot program and has arrived in the south-west from across Australia, leaving friends and family as participants follow dreams of captaining international jets and travelling the world.
Their days are shaped by the weather and include regular training flights and classroom lessons, with the 15-month program giving each participant a guaranteed stint as a first officer.
Deniliquin’s Sam Fellows moved to Hamilton in January and shares a house in town with two other cadets.
“I’d heard it was one of the best ways to do it,” he said of the course.
“I’d love to go into the jets. Be able to stay in the regionals for a little bit and then gradually progress.”
Jeremy Fry left his childhood home in Fitzroy to start the program.
“From a really young age I’ve wanted to fly and sort of idolised pilots,” he said.
“When I found out I could fly, especially with Sharp which is an easy way of doing it, I jumped at the opportunity.”
Jeremy said he was aiming to work for Qantas and fly on international routes.
Sharp Airlines training manager Helen Sobey said there were 23 students training to fly in Hamilton.
“They can come here without any flying experience whatsoever. They’re taught to fly and then they’re taught to go into twin engines and do instruments, which means they can fly in the clouds,” she said.
“We really promote the rural locality because down in Melbourne where there’s such crowded skies to learn to fly, sometimes they can pay for an hour’s lesson and then sit on the ground for half an hour and wait to get a clearance.”
New pilots were employed as first officers after their initial training and spent a year flying alongside a captain, Ms Sobey said.
“We can only take the ones who we know we’ve got plenty of work for,” she said.
“We really make sure that they think about it, that they’ve looked at all the options, that they know it’s the right thing, which is why we get such a positive group.”
Pilots trained in Hamilton have gone on to work for major airlines, including Cathay Pacific, Qantas, Virgin Blue and Jetstar.
Hawkesdale’s Mark Johnstone moved to the south-west four years ago from his native New Zealand and is part of the latest cadet pilot intake.
He said controlling sophisticated flying equipment was a thrill.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, ever since I can remember,” he said.