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Class of foreign pilots graduates from Valley flight academy

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PHOENIX – Heading to a foreign country to study is challenge enough for many young men and women.

Add to that learning how to fly an airplane from instructors who don’t speak your native language, and that sums up Marlon Zeng’s year at TransPac Aviation Academy at Deer Valley Airport.

“I was afraid of my training because I had no idea how to fly before I came here,” said Zeng, who along with 24 other Chinese students received his wings Thursday.

After completing hundreds of hours of ground school lessons and homework, flight simulator training and practice flights, Zeng will return to China to fly a Boeing 737 for Xiamen Airlines.

“After I get over all the difficulties and get my commercial pilot license, now I feel I can fly anywhere I want to fly,” he said.

Sue Kaiser, director of customer relations and student services for TransPac, said the academy found a niche in training students from other countries, where training money is more readily available. A class graduates each month, while another arrives.

“This is what we do every month,” she said. “We’re proud, they’re proud. It’s my favorite day.”

Stephen Goddard, CEO and president of TransPac, said it took a lot for the graduates to leave their home country for a year.

“This is very difficult but an incredible thing to accomplish,” he said. “But to do it in a new country, to do it in a second language, I wouldn’t be able to do that.”’

The pilots are returning to jobs in a region still grappling with the disappearance of a Malaysia Airlines jet believed to have veered off course mysteriously on a flight from Malaysia to China and crashed in the Indian Ocean.

Goddard said that the school tries to learn from every aviation tragedy, including Flight 370.

“That particular incident seems a long way away from what we’re doing here, but there are always lessons that you can derive,” he said.

Zeng said it’s important to train for emergencies as well as routine flights.

“In my opinion, after we learn about the bad news we paid more attention on the emergency training,” he said.