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Foreign Students and Fake Schools

Here is a typical exemple of fraud occurring with some “schools”….

Aussie Air at Fort Lauderdale Executive airport didn’t have federal certification.

Adrian Garcia, a 20-year-old from Spain, knew he wanted to be a pilot by the time he turned 9. After high school, he began working at a small airport in his native country and soon was searching online for a flight school.

He picked Aussie Air, an aviation school in Fort Lauderdale, because its tuition was relatively low and it promised to get him into a pilot’s seat quickly. When the school agreed to drop the price from about $45,000 to $25,000, Garcia said he borrowed money to pay.

Eight months after he arrived in South Florida, Aussie Air closed. Garcia and 12 other foreign students, who had lived in the school’s rented building at Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport while enrolled, were evicted by the landlord in March.

By that time students had learned the school’s owner had incorporated or advertised similar aviation academies under different names over the past six years in Florida. None of the schools were accredited through the Federal Aviation Administration, federal records show, although Aussie Air had filed a pre-application in 2009 stating it would seek FAA certification.

Federal regulations allow pilot schools to operate without FAA certification, but they must employ FAA-certificated instructors. Only those instructors can train foreign students; some students in Colombia and Spain said they met with Aussie Air recruiters in their home countries. It’s not known if Aussie Air’s teachers had FAA certificates.

Students said the man who told them he was the school’s owner went by several names, signing their contracts both as Luis Vargas and Luis Vargas Martinez. Students had three cell phone numbers for Martinez; all have been disconnected or are not working. No one responded to emails sent to Aussie Air.

The Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges, an independent organization that examines vocational and training programs nationwide, requires aviation academies that want its certificiation to have have FAA-approved curricula and instructor pilots, said commission executive director Michale McComis.

“I would advocate for students to really ask questions about appropriate certifications,” McComis said.

FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said foreign students make up a large portion of the flight students in Florida.

The FAA does not regulate the business side of flight schools, which means it can do nothing for students who lose tuition deposits or don’t receive what they have been promised.

County consumer affairs offices take complaints about vocational and trade training facilities, including those involving aviation. Officials in Broward and Palm Beach counties, however, said they have not received any recently regarding flight schools.


It also can be difficult for prospective students to figure out a school’s safety track record. The National Transportation Safety Board keeps statistics on aviation accidents but does not have a separate category for flight schools. That means there is no easy way to see if a training facility has been involved in a crash.

The board has a 2006 report on a fatal accident involving a Beech BE-76 Duchess, operated by Aussie Air. According to the document, a student and a 25-year-old flight instructor were on an instrument training flight when the plane’s engines failed, and the plane plummeted to the ground, killing both instructor and student.

The report said the plane was 25 hours past due for its next 100-hour inspection.

Aussie Air Holdings started in Daytona Beach in 2004, according to state incorporation records. Two of the officers listed in company documents, filed with the state, were Luis Vargas Baquero and Luis Vargas Martinez. Over the next six years, state records show Baquero and Martinez, either together or separately, were involved in incorporating three other flight schools.

Records for two of those schools — FXE Flight Center and Fly Now Express — list the same Fort Lauderdale address as Aussie Air. Fly Now remains registered as an active corporation at 5302 NW 21st Ter., the 20,000-square-foot building where Garcia and his fellow students temporarily lived. Garcia has returned to Spain.

The flight school leased it in 2009 from Sheltair, which is suing Aussie Air and its principals. Jonathan Prosper, a Sheltair representative, said the school stopped paying rent in October and still owes $40,000 to Sheltair.


Officials with the FAA said aspiring pilots should thoroughly investigate flight academies before enrolling or paying money. If the price is considerably lower than other schools, there might be something wrong since most schools have similar prices, they said. Revise and sign contracts in person and don’t make bank deposits in advance. Making the wrong choice could mean wasting time and money.

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