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A look inside Norwich’s aviation academy as it celebrates first birthday

PUBLISHED: 08:52 08 August 2018 | UPDATED: 08:52 08 August 2018

Simon Witts, ASP founder and chief executive, at the International Aviation Academy. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Simon Witts, ASP founder and chief executive, at the International Aviation Academy. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Copyright: Archant 2018

There are probably few training facilities which have caught the eye of so many as Norwich’s aviation centre.

For the industry, the International Aviation Academy is a national first, a hub to train the future workforce. For politicians, including the prime minister, its innovation has prompted a clutch of visits.

It has strong links with the RAF, police and air cadets, and Carol Vorderman, Royal Air Force Cadets ambassador, even opened it last year.

Degree students work on maintenance of an aircraft in practical side of he International Aviation Academy. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYDegree students work on maintenance of an aircraft in practical side of he International Aviation Academy. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

And for the county’s schools - well, it’s good fun. A look around a Boeing 737 and flight simulators makes for a memorable school trip.

On Thursday, the academy will mark its first birthday, after a year which has seen its roll grow to 120 full-time students (its capacity is 450) and new plans for a second site at RAF Marham.

Jenni Armes, client co-ordinator ASP East, at work on one of the simulators at the International Aviation Academy, an AgustaWestland helicopter 139 at Los Angeles airport. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYJenni Armes, client co-ordinator ASP East, at work on one of the simulators at the International Aviation Academy, an AgustaWestland helicopter 139 at Los Angeles airport. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Its goal is to train the next generation of aviation staff - focusing on six key areas: Piloting, air traffic control, airport operations, cabin crew, operations and crewing and engineering and maintenance.

Simon Witts, chief executive and founder of the Aviation Skills Partnership, which runs it, said there was a growing skills gap.

The enormous space with public areas and a café just past reception at the International Aviation Academy. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYThe enormous space with public areas and a café just past reception at the International Aviation Academy. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

“The aviation industry is growing at its fastest rate since World War Two, and it is turning out more aircraft than it has ever turned out before,” he said.

“But it’s not turning out the people that are required, so actually we need a sustainable supply of skilled people for the industry.”

An 737 aircraft in the practical area where degree students work on maintenance at the International Aviation Academy. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYAn 737 aircraft in the practical area where degree students work on maintenance at the International Aviation Academy. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Students can study at the academy full-time from 16, and it works closely with schools, home educated students, the University of East Anglia, which accredits its degrees, and colleges including City College Norwich, University Technical College Norfolk and Easton and Otley.

With 20 training rooms, three flight simulators and, of course, its Boeing 737-300, each of its six areas dip into various parts of the academy, and on the ground experience is just a stone’s throw away at Norwich Airport.

An 737 aircraft in the practical area where degree students work on maintenance at the International Aviation Academy. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYAn 737 aircraft in the practical area where degree students work on maintenance at the International Aviation Academy. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

But it hopes to expand its appeal - there’s a public café and what they believe is East Anglia’s largest events space, as well as open days for families to explore.

Mr Witts said they wanted it to be a “centre for all”, and something Norwich, and wider Norfolk, could take pride in.

Degree students Aysha Zubair and Musse Muse at the International Aviation Academy. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYDegree students Aysha Zubair and Musse Muse at the International Aviation Academy. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The organisation has already announced plans to open academies at RAF Syerston, new Newark, and RAF Cosford, in Shropshire.

Strong aviation links

Mr Witts said the city’s strong aviation history made it a perfect spot to open their first academy.

He cited Boulton and Paul as an example, which created one of the first steel-framed aircraft in the world, later displayed at the 1919 Paris Airshow.

The company started out as an ironmonger’s, which was founded by 1797 and, by the early 1900s, had become a successful manufacturing firm. During the First World War it produced prefabricated buildings, creating barrack huts and hangars, with contracts for a naval hospital and even a prisoner of war camp in Jersey. And in 1915, it began to build aircraft, producing nine different types of aeroplane at their large Riverside and Rose Lane works. John North, hailed as a pioneer at Boulton and Paul and in wider aviation, felt the time of the wooden aircraft was over, and produced steel frames instead. An airfield was laid out on the old Cavalry Drill Grounds on Mousehold, from where the plans could take off.

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