2017-11-30 / Front Page

Ready for takeoff

Biddeford flight school graduates first student
By Grant McPherson Staff Writer


Cody Provencher earned his private pilot license on Sunday, Nov. 12 and hopes to become a commercial airline pilot one day. The 2017 Biddeford High School graduate has flown more than 60 hours so far. He said flying has taught him awareness of his surroundings and given him a greater sense of responsibility. (Grant McPherson photo) Cody Provencher earned his private pilot license on Sunday, Nov. 12 and hopes to become a commercial airline pilot one day. The 2017 Biddeford High School graduate has flown more than 60 hours so far. He said flying has taught him awareness of his surroundings and given him a greater sense of responsibility. (Grant McPherson photo) BIDDEFORD – A 2017 Biddeford High School graduate has become the first certified pilot from York County Coastal Aviation.

Cody Provencher, 18, received his private pilot license Sunday, Nov. 12 after almost eight months of training. The Biddeford native has 62 hours of flight time so far and plans to attend the University of Maine at Augusta for the Bachelor of Science in Aviation program. If he completes the four-year program, he will be a Federal Aviation Administration certified commercial pilot.

“Getting to the airlines, that’s what I’ve wanted to do ever since I was little,” Provencher said. “On trips to the Caribbean, I always thought the best part was the commercial airlines.”


Jeff Surran, left, started York County Coastal Aviation in March and Cody Provencher is the school’s first student to earn a private pilot license. Surran began his career in the Navy flying Lockheed P-3 Orions, which are designed to track submarines. He is a member of the Air National Guard and a captain for JetBlue. (Grant McPherson photo) Jeff Surran, left, started York County Coastal Aviation in March and Cody Provencher is the school’s first student to earn a private pilot license. Surran began his career in the Navy flying Lockheed P-3 Orions, which are designed to track submarines. He is a member of the Air National Guard and a captain for JetBlue. (Grant McPherson photo) Jeff Surran, 44, a Navy veteran and Air National Guard member, started York County Coastal Aviation at Biddeford Municipal Airport in March. He has been employed by JetBlue since 2006 and is captain of an Embraer 190. He flies throughout the United States, Caribbean and South America. He has deployed to Iraq three times and flown in more than 100 combat missions. He decided to start a flight school at Biddeford Municipal Airport after a conversation with Manager Kris Reynolds.

“It was by chance, to tell the truth,” Surran said. “I stopped in and met Kris. I hadn’t been there since I was 12 or 13 years old. I asked what he had for a flight school. He jokingly said, ‘nothing, do you want to start one.’ Fast forward and here we are.”

Provencher can only operate a plane and carry passengers under visual flight rules, weather permitting. This means that he cannot fly unless he can see where the plane is going. Provencher is currently enrolled in instrument flight training with Surran at Biddeford Municipal Airport, which allows a pilot to maintain control of the plane in poor visibility situations. Surran expects it will take Provencher another four to five months before he completes that certification.

“He’s a naturally talented pilot,” Surran said. “Being able to take off and land – he picked that up really quickly.”

Surran works with four other instructors and has a total of six students. He hopes two more students will have their private pilot licenses by the end of December. Surran owns one single-engine 1973 Piper Warrior with four seats, which all of his students and instructors share. He plans to fly to Salt Lake City the last week of November to pick up a second, multiengine plane called a Beechcraft Duchess. Surran said he would likely be the only person in southern Maine with a multi-engine training facility.

“Obviously when you get to the airlines, everything is multi-engine,” Surran said. “The trick with multiengine is dealing with the possibility of asymmetric thrust if there is an engine failure. It’s more complicated with more than one engine. It goes faster at higher altitudes.”

For Provencher, the written exams were the most difficult part of getting his pilot license. He had to take three tests, one before he could fly by himself, one at the conclusion of ground school, which he took online and the Federal Aviation Administration exam at Sanford Seacoast Regional Airport.

Provencher said he was working on his dirt bike at his house on South Street when Surran, a neighbor, approached him about learning to fly. Surran took Provencher for a flight in April for the first time and Provencher was hooked.

“When I got in the air I thought, ‘This is what I want to do,’” Provencher said. “After that, within the first week I was taking flight lessons.”

It’s never been a better time to be a pilot, according to Surran. He said many flight schools were grounded after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and have struggled since the 2008 recession. Similarly, the mandatory retirement age for U.S. pilots is 65, and Surran said many are approaching that threshold.

“American (Airlines) is losing half its pilot force, I believe in the next six years,” he said. “They have about 14,000 pilots. Airlines are hiring like crazy. The thing that’s prohibitive is getting into aviation costs a lot of money. My airplane is $175 an hour with an instructor. It’s a significant investment, but then again so is college.”

Provencher will have a leg up over fellow students next fall, as no prior flying experience is required for the aviation program at the University of Maine at Augusta. His longest flight so far was about six hours up the coast from Biddeford to Rockland and back.

“I loved flying my first time cross-country to Rockland,” Provencher said. “I thought it was a really nice view. I also went up to an airport past Mount Washington, which was really cool. I actually got to fly by Mount Washington on a clear day. I loved it.”

As part of his training to become a certified pilot, Provencher also had to learn how to maneuver the airplane after an engine failure, or stall. He learned to glide the airplane back to safety and land it at the airport or on the beach, depending on the plane’s altitude when it stalls.

“It went well,” Provencher said. “It took me a few times to get the hang of it. It doesn’t frighten me that much. I never want to get in that situation but I know what it’s going to be like. I’m prepared.”

Preparing the next generation of pilots is just what Surran hopes to do.

“If I can pass that on, to especially the younger guys, that’s a really good feeling,” he said. “As long as I keep students coming we’ll try and keep the prop spinning.”

Contact Staff Writer Grant McPherson at news@inthecourier.com

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