Hosting Singapore’s first-ever Red Bird MCX flight simulator, Fabian Lim’s Flightschool.sg is making it easier for aspiring aviators to take to the skies.

A certified private pilot, Fabian claims that he “flies more than he drives” in his own private Eclipse 500.

Breakfast in Bangkok, lunch in the famed street food haunts of Ipoh and dinner against the glittering backdrop of Kuala Lumpur’s Petronas Towers. Considering the distance between these three destinations, it is safe to say that this scenario is probably an unlikely one. But as a private aviator, consuming three meals in three different parts of the world, all in one day, is not impossible.

Amongst those privileged enough to experience days like these is Fabian Lim, the founder of several successful online and offline businesses including home and lifestyle services app, Page Advisor. A certified private pilot holding a Private Pilot Licence (PPL) issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) of the USA, the serial entrepreneur “flies more than he drives”, jetting off from Singapore to business meetings in Malaysia via his own private Eclipse 500. Now sharing his passion with the public, Fabian’s newest venture, Flightschool.sg is taking local aviation enthusiasts to the sky faster, safer and more efficiently than ever before.

A Lifelong Affair

Fabian’s journey to becoming a certified aviator began with his fascination for flying at the tender age of just 16. Looking back at how it all started, he recalls, “I remember going on a joy flight with my dad from Seletar Airport when his friend invited us on board his Cessna 142. It was a short flight, but it left a lasting impression. I had desired to become an aviator ever since.”

Having had a taste of being in the skies, the young Fabian spent a large part of his youth embarking on virtual flights with Microsoft’s iconic Flight Simulator video game. Unfortunately, being visually short-sighted prevented Fabian from achieving his boyhood dream of flying for a living. Instead, he took on his first job at Deloitte but was laid off after six years due to a sudden structural realignment. As tough as the situation was, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It was during this time that Fabian discovered his knack for entrepreneurship and in 2006, he found a window of opportunity to fly to Seattle and obtain his PPL. “I have since clocked over 650 hours as a private aviator. It is certainly an immense privilege to be able to share the skies with commercial airliners and the likes,” he enthuses.

Flightschool.sg is the first of its kind in Singapore to adopt the Red Bird MCX flight simulator for training.

Pioneering Private Aviation

Fabian is just one of the few aviation enthusiasts in Singapore to have turned his flying aspirations into reality. Soaring the skies is an exciting prospect, but the road to becoming a pilot is neither simple nor easy. “There are very few of us who have been able to overcome the hurdles of obtaining a licence as well as the regulatory aspects of owning an aircraft and the financial burden of maintaining it,” Fabian admits.

True to his reputation as an entrepreneurial visionary, Fabian saw a gap in the market for a more accessible and affordable flying school. Eager to help other aspiring pilots realise their dream, he co-founded Flightschool.sg, Singapore’s first private flight school, together with ex-Singapore Air Force (SAF) pilot Captain Vincent Lim.

“Flightschool.sg came about as a result of my observation that anyone in Singapore who wanted to obtain a PPL had only one or two options,” says Fabian. “The first option is to join the Singapore Flight School and the second option is to head over to Malaysia. In my opinion, none of these options are cost-effective or viable. Both require a lot of time to train and build up proficiency.”

Officially launched in November 2016, Flightschool.sg overcame these hurdles by being the only private flying school in Singapore to host a full motion Red Bird MCX flight simulator – one of the industry’s most sophisticated flight simulators for general aviation. It also features a specially crafted curriculum that brings together simulation training and theory to allow students to be PPL-ready in just 12 weeks. Upon completion of the course, those deemed proficient enough are sent to the US for the final FAA stretch. With prior training, most students would be able to acquire their licence in as little as 25 flying days.

Disruptive Simulation

The presence of an industry-leading flight simulator is a game changer for Flightschool.sg, as it makes it the only fight academy where training is done entirely virtually. Sharing the inspiration behind this idea, Fabian says, “When I was training for my single pilot jet licence, I had to undergo seven days of ground school and seven days of simulator training before I could take the check ride (equivalent of a final examination). It was intriguing that I was issued my licence after training 100% in a simulator. It then dawned upon me that full motion simulators are realistic enough to train those who have never flown a jet.”

The Red Bird MCX is one of the very few full motion simulators approved by the FAA, which means that a US licensed pilot could utilize the Red Bird MCX to log time towards a PPL, instrument rating, multi-engine rating, or a commercial licence. In short, the MCX could be used for 50% of flight training time.

Fabian goes on to further explain that training with a flight simulator has tremendous advantages over training with an aircraft. For one, while aircrafts are required to undergo regular maintenance, the full motion simulator is available 24/7, seven days a week. It also functions in all types of weather, rain or shine, and is cheaper to operate as compared to a jet. “Our major cost is electricity, so this changes the whole cost equation. An hour on our flight simulator is priced far lower than an hour on a real aircraft,” shares Fabian.

And for those who have their doubts that a simulator can truly replicate the feel of real flying, Fabian is quick to dispel them. “We have had professional pilots fly our simulator. I am a private pilot myself and I can confidently tell you that if you can fly safely and accurately in the Red Bird MCX, you will be able to fly a real aircraft, no questions asked. It is that realistic.”

Making Flying Accessible

Recognizing that a full 12-week preparatory course may still be inconvenient for many prospective pilots, Flightschool.sg, in association with Red Bird, also offers a more flexible curriculum – the Guided Independent Flight Training (GIFT). GIFT is essentially a training supplement designed with a series of smart scenarios meant to be flown in Red Bird’s simulators. It acts as a digital flight instructor, providing real-time feedback and review of the student’s performance. “The GIFT programme lets aspiring pilots embark on training at their own pace. It is another way for us to make training far more affordable as well. The programme itself is relatively inexpensive to buy and the student only needs to rent the simulator and a flight instructor if he or she wishes, on an ala carte basis,” Fabian explains.

Fabian with business magnate Richard Branson, who he spoke alongside during the Move Vietnam conference in 2015.

Teaching With Passion

Having seen significant success since its launch, Flightschool.sg now trains an average of 40 students a year. At the heart of the school’s success are its instructors. The quality of their training can make or break as aspiring pilot’s success and Fabian believes that choosing instructors for the team is “both an art and science.” While qualification and experience both rank high on the checklist, there is one special ingredient that Fabian always looks out for – passion.

“The moulding of a professional aviator, whether for private or commercial, starts with having the right instructor with the right level of energy and enthusiasm to guide our candidates on their journey,” he explains.

While the instructors of Flightschool.sg have their hands full grooming the next generation of pilots, Fabian recognizes that with advances in technology happening all the time, it is important for him to keep his own skills up to date. “When you fly in the sky, you are not alone,” he reflects. “There is air traffic ahead of you, beside you, above you and below you. That is why it is important for aviators like us to keep practicing, be it through actual flying or the simulator. This way, we can enjoy the perks of our private licence in a legal and safe manner.”

This article was first published in the MillionaireAsia Issue 46 - November 2017

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