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Lufthansa's Handover of Arizona School Criticized

German Pilot Union Head Says Ceding Operational Control Over Flight Academy Handover Foolish 

The head of Germany's largest pilot union, the Vereinigung Cockpit, has described Lufthansa's handover of its Phoenix flight training location to the state of Arizona as "absolutely incomprehensible." Stefan Herth said handing off its own pilot education services will prove to be a gross strategic error in the long run. 

Arizona's arid, desert climate has made it a global holy city of aviation since World War II, with the central Phoenix metropolitan area containing a series of airports that got their start largely due to the tremendous need for allied pilots all over the world. Arizona boasts nearly continuous sunny days and relatively benign wind conditions, as well as an accommodating local flight culture that accepts the constant presence of light aircraft on their daily business. Lufthansa was an outlier in the region, known for being a sort of premium training provider with its own private airfield replete with a coveted ILS approach closed to outsiders. For students completing their instrument rating, the options remain somewhat limited, often choosing between Phoenix Gateway's high traffic and passenger service or the constant stream of student pilots flying into Casa Grande just south of the city. A private, exclusive ecosystem is in high demand, especially in an industry watching a looming shortfall of qualified pilots. 

Herth finds the decision foolish in the long term, saying that Lufthansa's concession of its flight training interests due to restructuring makes little sense economically. The company hasn't just ceded ground abroad, but handed over its European locations in November 2021. The deal then was surprising to some, with a sudden announcement that the facilities would be transferred to United Airlines’ new Aviate Academy, along with a lease for 25 of the school's SR20 aircraft. Lufthansa Aviation Training kept the right to purchase training services from the new owner, effectively outsourcing the operations to United. The move was said to be a cost cutting move, as Lufthansa said the change helped both companies mutually. 

"We are convinced that both partners will benefit with regard to their needs – the United Aviate Academy can make full use of a unique campus infrastructure and a modern training fleet while LAT secures access to training capacities in the future in addition to substantially reducing costs in pilot student training," said Matthias Spohr, managing director of Lufthansa's training arm in November. 



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