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Behind the scenes at Harford Air Services' flight school

For some, the allure of flight drives a lifelong obsession, and the sky is the only place they really feel at home.

"It's the feeling of freedom and the passion," says aspiring pilot Ryan Kegerise.

A student at Harford Air Services' flight school, Kegerise has been dreaming of learning to fly since he was in his teens. Although his parents were willing to pay for lessons, Kegerise says he didn't feel right about taking their money for something that seemed so frivolous. Instead, when he graduated high school, he joined the U.S. Air Force, later using the G.I. Bill to obtain his bachelor's degree in aviation mechanics.

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Until recently Kegerise focused his energy on repairing aircraft rather than flying them. With an in-demand skill, his career even took him to the U.S. Virgin Islands before moving to his wife’s hometown of Bel Air.
Because he works at Harford County Airport, he’s able to take lessons twice a week. Others generally progress more slowly because of work, family or financial limits. And some take breaks that last for years.

Allure at any age

“Kids are the No. 1 reason I hear from people who’ve been away from it for a while,” says Harford Air Services owner Kevin Hess. “They may have started lessons when they were younger, then they got married and had kids and a career and couldn’t put the time into it anymore. Sometimes it’s years before we see them again.”
The good news is that practice hours continue to count toward the total number needed to obtain a license, even if a student takes a long hiatus. That was beneficial to Chris Famalette, 41. A digital systems expert at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Famalette first took flying lessons when he was in his teens but never obtained his license.
“I wasn’t mature enough at the time,” he admits.
For a long time, the only flying he did was as a passenger on business trips. But when he moved to Bulle Rock in 2011, he could hear the planes approaching Harford County Airport.
“I’m going to go back,” he kept telling himself.
Now he’s taken his written exam and is preparing to take the oral exam and test flight.

A rich man's sport?

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In the long run, those who spread the lessons out over a longer period may wind up paying more.
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“The cost of lessons varies depending on the length of time you’re in the air and type of aircraft the student uses,” explains Aaron Harrington.
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An experienced commercial pilot, Harrington is now preparing to become a certified flight instructor at Harford Air. He points out that students can choose from a number of different aircraft. Rental fees start as low as $99 per hour for a Cessna 162 Skycatcher, and hourly instruction starts at $45 — that’s typically affordable for those who would just like to take a few lessons. Gift certificates for an introductory lesson or sightseeing plane ride are also available.
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But for those who want to get serious about obtaining a pilot’s license, classroom ground instruction is also required, along with written and oral tests. The ground school is offered at Harford Air in two sessions each year, fall and spring.
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Still, some aspiring pilots are put off by flying’s image — some perceive it as a privilege only available to the very wealthy.
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“I used to have the impression it was a rich person’s sport, but it’s not,” Harrington says. “We have electricians, big-business owners, guys that work at Home Depot — but all with one thing in common.”
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Hess agrees. “It’s like any other hobby. You can spend as little or as much as you want. It’s similar to owning a boat, as far as purchase cost and insurance,” he says.
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He adds that pilots can buy “a nice little used, two-seater plane for about $20,000.”
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Kegerise and another Harford Air mechanic, Steve Kauffman, co-own a 1946 Luscombe they plan to rebuild. Harrington cut costs by forming a partnership with three other pilots to purchase a 1975 Cessna Cardinal.
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“Our investment was only about $16,000 each, but we got a $60,000 plane for that,” Harrington says.
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Kevin Hess says co-owning a plane is a common arrangement for those who want to fly. They can share maintenance and insurance costs, but it also gives lovers of flight a ready-made group of fellow enthusiasts to interact with.
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Practical applications

While flying lessons might seem like an extravagance, they also have some practical application in today’s economy. The number of people interested in flying dropped drastically after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Now the industry faces a shortage of well-trained commercial pilots and licensed instructors.
“As the economy gets better, airlines — including commuter airlines — are doing more hiring,” Hess says. “It makes it hard to get enough instructors. But on the plus side, the shortage of pilots might bring more young people into flying.”
On average, about 10 students a year get their pilot’s licenses at Harford Air’s flight school. Some of them go on to the military or to careers as commercial pilots, which require additional training. One former Harford Air student now flies F-18s for the military, and a popular instructor just left to take a position as a commercial pilot.
For Kegerise and Famalette, though, the goal right now is to have fun and to realize their childhood dreams.
Kegerise says he’s never thought seriously about becoming a commercial pilot or instructor. On the other hand, he adds, “I’ll just see where things take me. To me, all aviation is really cool.”
Famalette concurs. “I enjoy being up in the air,” he says. “I’ve always been comfortable there. It’s quiet. It’s just you out there, and it’s a neat, peaceful experience.”

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