With increasing demand for pilots, aviation school looks to move operation from RDU to Johnston County

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SMITHFIELD, N.C. (WNCN) – The need for commercial pilots is extraordinary. Boeing projects the airline industry will need 804,000 new pilots over the next 20 years.

And aviation training isn’t easy. That’s especially true for Sergey Goncharov, who is in his last week of pilot training at Blue Line Aviation.

“They gave me a great opportunity. It was a lot of fun flying, and I’m really excited to be closer to my dream,” he said.

A dream hasn’t been easy to achieve. With two children, Goncharov works a full-time job at GE while also working toward getting certified. He wants to eventually fly for American or United Airlines.

It’s not a cheap endeavor. Flight school at Blue Line runs about $70,000. Goncharov sold his home to help finance it.

“It costs money to park, too,” he added. RDU recently told businesses that use the employee parking lot at general aviation that those spaces will become paid parking for the public. The options for parking elsewhere include a lot that requires a bus and takes time, or the express lot that costs significantly more per month.

“It forces people to park further away from the airport and take shuttles. The way our business operates — both at RDU and our professional pilot training center, which is about three miles away — our instructors go between the professional pilot training center and RDU,” said Blue Line Aviation COO Lance Belben. “Unless you have two and a half (or a) three-hour block in between, there’s really not enough time to get back to use your time efficiently.

“We take people from zero to anywhere in their career through the ability to fly commercially.”

With the increasing demand, Blue Line has grown to the point that it is moving its operation to the Johnston County Regional Airport near Smithfield.

“I understand the business model of RDU trying to bring in people with more money and the airline expansion of RDU and trying to make the demand of the local economy,” Belben said. “We’re on the way to Johnston County to move our business. But, we’re about a year out at this point, and it just kind of feels like we’re getting kicked on our way out the door.”

RDU’s original notification said the changes in parking would go into effect Oct. 1, but the day came and passed without that happening. The airport told CBS 17 it will give companies a two-week notice. Belben hopes RDU will negotiate.

“It’s just having the people that have the authority getting on board with doing the negotiation and actually allowing that to happen,” he said.

Goncharov would like to see that, as well.

“I can’t even count how many times I’ve had to park and pay for it, so it’s definitely a big impact.”

Belben believes being in Johnston County will feel much more like a partnership than the recent experience with RDU.

The new facility will eventually employ as many as 300 people and have a rooftop restaurant.

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