Mazzei Flying Service, a well-reputed flight training school for private and commercial pilots based at Fresno Yosemite International Airport, ceased its full-time instruction this week because of serious financial problems.
The shutdown leaves dozens of international students – in the U.S. on student visas training to be airline pilots in Taiwan, Indonesia and India – in a potential lurch to complete their instruction after paying tens of thousands of dollars each for their classes.
“As of Monday, we met with the students and told them we were ceasing all full-time flight training,” Mazzei president Mark Addis told The Bee. “We are finishing training for a small number of students … who are close to the end of the program.”
Financially, however, continuing the training “is not feasible at the moment,” Addis added. “We were working on an investment plan, but that fell through last week. So we had to make a decision quickly.”
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“I feel exceptionally sad about it,” said Addis, who became a partner in the business in 2010 and became the full owner in 2015, according to a brief history on the company’s website. “This is a great environment, and the training here is good.”
On Thursday, a couple dozen students – most from Asia – were gathered in an classroom at the Mazzei office at the airport. But the company’s website, which earlier this week was live with links to pages describing its services, courses and aircraft, was deactivated Thursday except for a static image of the company logo.
I feel exceptionally sad about it.
Mazzei president Mark Addis
A Taiwanese news agency, TVBS, posted on its website a sample of a smartphone video taken by one of the students Monday as Addis broke the news about stopping the training. “As of today, at this point, we are ceasing full-time flight training operations,” Addis said in the video. “We’re not closing right now, but we are just stopping flight training operations so we can reevaluate where we’re at.”
Three Taiwanese students at the school traveled to San Francisco on Tuesday to file complaints with the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) – a quasi-consulate since there are no formal diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Taiwan. Joe Wang, the office’s director of information, said the students represent about 40 students from Taiwan who are in the pilot-training program at Mazzei.
“They are very worried about their tuition and fees that they already paid at the beginning of the class,” Wang said. “They are concerned about continuing their classes, moving out of their apartments, and very concerned about their refunds.” The money paid by the international students includes housing at Lake Ridge Apartments, near the airport, but Wang said the students told his office that the school has not paid the rent for several months.
Representatives of Royal T Management, which manages the apartment complex, said they could not comment on their relationship with Mazzei Flying Service or whether the company was behind on rent for its students living there.
Wang said TECO’s San Francisco office “took up substantial measures to help the Taiwanese students to pursue their rights.” Those measures include establishing a task force to gather more information and to monitor the situation, providing legal counsel to help the students, and reaching out to the Taiwanese community in the Fresno area to offer whatever help they can for the students.
One student from Taiwan told The Bee that he came to the U.S. in August and paid $58,000 up front to enroll at Mazzei, but was dissatisfied and sought to transfer to another flight school. He said he has been trying unsuccessfully since December to get a refund on the balance of his money so he can transfer. The student didn’t want his name published because he fears not being in school will jeopardize his student visa.
They are very worried about their tuition and fees that they already paid at the beginning of the class.
Joe Wang, director of information with the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO), on student concerns
The student said most of the students currently enrolled at the school are from Taiwan, but others are from Indonesia and other countries. He said the Mazzei program has long been popular with students from Asia “because it has a good reputation, it’s (Federal Aviation Administration) certified, and provides all the training that Asian airlines require for pilots.”
Addis acknowledged that the “vast majority” of the students are from overseas. “We have quite a few students that we’re trying to assist in any way we can,” he said. “We are trying to locate schools who will be able to train these students.”
Selling the aircraft
The 300-hour commercial pilot training course includes ground classes and flight training to become a private pilot, to receive an instrument rating, single-engine and multi-engine pilot certification and flight testing for a commercial pilot license. Addis said the course costs between $50,000 and $60,000 and can take 12 to 18 months to complete.
But enrollment and revenue can be cyclical and unpredictable, Addis said, “and it can be affected by international factors” including politics.
Addis said the company will ultimately close once it finishes its training commitment to students who are nearing completion of their course. The closure will affect between 25 and 30 employees, both full- and part-time. The company also owns 24 aircraft, including two helicopters as well as single- and two-engine airplanes, all of which will eventually be sold, Addis said.
While Mazzei Flying Service is approved by the FAA for flight training, the agency does not get involved in disputes between students and schools, FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said.
“The financial issue is strictly between the student and the company, and always has been,” Gregor said in an email to The Bee. “The FAA’s role is to make sure the company has the required syllabus and teaches according to that syllabus.” Finances, he added, “don’t fall within our regulatory authority. Unless, of course, financial hardship prevents a school from properly providing instruction.”
Gregor added that “the regular surveillance we conduct on this company has not turned up any issues with its ability to comply with the regulations governing its operations.”
The company’s founder, Fred Mazzei, trained aviators for the military during World War II, and in 1945 opened Mazzei Flying Service. He sold the company in the early 1970s to two airline pilots, who after several years sold it to the Brannan family. Two of the co-owners, George Brannan and his wife, Georgeanne, died in a 2001 airplane crash in Southern California. The other co-owners were their son Jim Brannan and his wife Patrice.
Addis, who learned to fly at Mazzei in the 1990s, became a partner in the business in 2010 and purchased the rest of the company from Jim Brannan in 2015. Jim Brannan remains with the company as the chief instructor.