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Gateway City/Who’s Here: Miami is home to Boeing’s largest flight training center

Martin Schaaf, manager of the Boeing Flight Services Miami Campus, holds a model of a 787 Dreamliner. The Miami training center has 24 flight simulators.
Martin Schaaf, manager of the Boeing Flight Services Miami Campus, holds a model of a 787 Dreamliner. The Miami training center has 24 flight simulators. For the Miami Herald

A global leader in the aircraft and aerospace industries, Boeing decided in 2013 to make Miami the center for its largest flight training facility worldwide.

The company, which has operated its Miami training campus next to Miami International Airport since 2000, began investing about $100 million two years ago to bring in new flight simulators and support equipment, and approximately double the center’s size to 134,000 square feet.

Boeing’s main flight training facility was formerly located in Seattle, but Miami is now the largest of Boeing’s 16 training campuses on six continents.

“We train about 4,500 students a year from all over the world,” said Martin Schaaf, the manager for the Boeing Flight Services Miami campus, one of the largest in the aviation industry. “We have 24 flight simulators, including 16 full-flight simulators, which simulate everything an aircraft can do, and eight flat-panel trainers, which have all the instruments and controls on an aircraft.”

The full-flight simulators look like the nose sections of aircraft on legs and cost between $9 million and $15 million each. In the flat-panel simulators, students in the captain’s and first officer’s seats can see and operate all the displays, switches and controls that operate real aircraft, but these simulators don’t move during takeoff, landing or emergency maneuvers like the full-flight equipment.

Students training at Boeing’s Miami location need to book hotel rooms, rent cars and typically spend money at restaurants, supermarkets and other establishments. “We have an annual economic impact of about $10 million,” Schaaf said.

Along with these costly trainers and their support equipment, the Miami center proudly displays a small World War II wooden flight trainer, which today looks like an elaborate toy in the midst of all the high-tech equipment.

The Miami campus has full-flight simulators for a variety of Boeing aircraft, including the 787, 747, 737 Next Generation, 757, 767, 777 and 717. “Those in highest demand are the 787 and the 737NG,” Schaaf said.

Called a campus by Boeing, the Miami center is like a small university — with very high security. It has classrooms and meeting rooms, digital training equipment, computer centers, labs, a cafeteria and a Boeing store that sells models of Boeing aircraft, T-shirts, fleece-lined flight jackets and other items. What makes it different from a typical college are the huge rooms where flight simulators perched on hydraulic legs operate around the clock, 365 days a year.

The Miami facility also trains airline crews in handling emergency procedures for passengers and has labs where engineers and technicians learn to maintain and repair the ultra-strong composite material used on 787s.

“Miami is centrally located and is a convenient location for Latin America and the Caribbean. But we draw students from all over the world,” Schaaf said. “The biggest sellers in our store are jackets and other cold-weather clothing.”

The Miami center does not train students aspiring to become pilots. It trains pilots who already have extensive flight time in other types of planes and want to qualify for flying a specific Boeing aircraft. Most of the students in Miami are already qualified to fly a Boeing model and want to learn to operate a different aircraft, like the new 787 Dreamliner. Many others are already qualified on one or more Boeing aircraft and need to requalify to meet regulatory requirements.

Schaaf was in charge of Boeing’s Miami campus between 2000 and 2005, then moved to a leadership role at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, returning to run the Miami center again in 2013. He has extensive experience in the aviation industry, starting his career working with advanced helicopters at Sikorsky Aircraft. He also spent 20 years with Northwest Airlines, starting as an aircraft mechanic and moving up to director of maintenance training. He has a B.S. from Northwestern University in organizational administration and a master’s degree in organizational leadership from Bethel University.

Schaaf is in charge of an important profit center that is part of Boeing Commercial Aviation Services.

Students, who are called customers, come from 125 U.S. and international airlines, as well as from the U.S. Air Force and Navy, whose pilots are learning to operate Boeing commercial aircraft or requalifying. Boeing does not release figures on fees or revenues for any of its flight service facilities.

The Miami center forms part of one of the largest groups of flight training centers, with facilities like Airbus and Pan Am International Flight Academy located nearby. This leads some to call Miami “sim city.”

Schaaf oversees 117 full-time employees in Miami, including instructors (usually retired commercial airline pilots), computer and materials specialists and staff supporting the system that keeps flight simulators operating around the clock. Other instructors work part time.

In Florida, Boeing has over 1,400 employees and its supplier/vendor purchases total about $1 billion and support an estimated 33,000 direct and indirect jobs. The company makes annual charitable contributions of more than $5 million.

The basic task of the Miami center is to make sure pilots are prepared to fly Boeing aircraft safely under any types of conditions.

“I can’t emphasize safety enough,” Schaaf said. “People depend on us every day when they fly on our planes. It’s what we do.”

The writer can be reached at josephmannjr@gmail.com

The Boeing Company

Business: Boeing is one of the world’s largest aerospace firms. It is a leading designer and manufacturer of commercial and military aircraft, as well as satellites, weapons, electronic and defense systems, launch systems, advanced information and communication systems, and logistics and training. One of the largest exporters in the U.S., the company’s customers include airlines and governments allied with the U.S. in 150 countries. In Miami, Boeing Flight Services, a part of Boeing Commercial Aviation, has the company’s largest aviation training center, one of 16 training campuses on six continents. With 24 simulators, the Miami center trains pilots to safely operate Boeing aircraft. It also has labs for training engineers and technicians for maintenance and repair of the Boeing 787 composite structure.

Founded: 1916 in Seattle.

Corporate headquarters: Chicago.

Miami Flight Training Center: 6601 NW 36th St., Miami, opened in 2000.

Boeing president and CEO: Dennis Muilenburg.

Miami management: Martin Schaaf, campus manager for Boeing Flight Training Services, Miami.

Employees: The Miami training campus has 117 full-time employees. Boeing has about 1,410 employees in Florida; 165,500 worldwide.

Financial results: The corporation had 2014 revenues of more than $90.7 billion and an order backlog of more than $487 billion.

Ownership: Publicly traded on the NYSE (Symbol: BA).

Websites: boeing.com.

Source: Boeing

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