While it has no apparently imminent plans to expand its 27-strong fleet of Bell helicopters, Horizon International Flight Academy in Al Ain, in the UAE emirate of Abu Dhabi, remains an important part of the UAE and Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) para-public and air force flight training infrastructure, preparing a mix of helicopter pilots for operational careers.
“Horizon is continuing to develop advanced courses to enhance its offerings to its valued customers in the region,” CEO Hareb Al Dhaheri told AIN in a pre-HAI Heli-Expo interview. “Recently, two advanced courses were added to the spectrum: Search and Rescue (SAR) for the twin-engine and a Night Vision Goggles (NVG) course.
“Horizon recently began receiving student pilots from India who do their recurrent training on the Bell 429. We also receive student pilots from all six GCC countries, both military and civil.”
Horizon usually trains more than 100 pilots a year, but the number can fluctuate due to regional and global business conditions, Al Dhaheri said. Horizon continues to play an active role, along with the entire aviation industry, to limit the spread of Covid-19.
“By following the recommended measures, we were able to continue training students during the pandemic,” he said. “As the pandemic recedes, Horizon continues to receive students. We just signed a three-year contract with one of our clients. We have had excellent success with our female trainees and continue to receive women trainees each year.”
Horizon's fleet consists of two Bell 429s, 13 Bell 407s, and 12 Bell 505 Jet Rangers, but Al Dhaheri did not reference any plans to increase the fleet size at this stage.
“We expanded our fleet in 2020 with the new Bell 505, in addition to the twin-engine helicopters we added in 2019,” he said. “We have had great experience with Bell products. We have been using Bell products since inception with great success.”
Al Dhaheri did not rule out plans to initiate dealings with other OEMs in the future. “There is always an opportunity to explore and to expand,” he said. “Customer requirements drive Horizon to research and expand for new methods of learning and ways to apply new technology.”
Horizon’s transition from the Bell 206 to the Bell 505 is an important feature of recent operations. “The fact that Bell manufactures both aircraft was a key factor in helping us choose this platform,” he said. “The Bell 505 is equipped with the glass cockpit and Garmin function, which we were already accustomed to with the Bell 429. Diligence and commitment to this transition meant our team was ready.”
Al Dhaheri wants to keep the academy positioned for future business developments.
“At Horizon, we are constantly seeking new and innovative training technologies to service the UAE aerospace sector, build pilot skills, and enhance operational flexibility," he explained. "We continue to set the benchmark for pilot training worldwide by guiding tomorrow’s aviators and improving the skills of today’s experienced pilots, expanding our single and twin-engine helicopter training programs, and employing the latest high-tech simulators.”