It was five years of a troubled enterprise that is now coming to an end. The L3Harris Airline Academy in Ponte de Sor, former Aerocondor, in the Portalegre district, will close its doors at the end of September. Since 2017, the pilot training academy has been owned by the American company L3 Technologies, which is withdrawing from the company in Portugal, leaving 90 employees out of work. The multinational, which has training centers in the United Kingdom and the United States, explains to Dinheiro Vivo that the decision comes after “an analysis of the group’s global portfolio”, conducted with the aim of ensuring “that the international presence of the training is in line with demand”. “Unfortunately, in order to ensure the best possible outcome for the operation of our schools, we are ceasing our activities in Portugal,” a source from L3Harris confirms.
The news was taken by surprise by the municipality, which considers this departure from the municipality as “abrupt and unexpected”. “Unfortunately, the Ponte de Sor City Council was not consulted in time about this unilateral decision by the company. About nine dozen employees will be temporarily unemployed and their rights will be duly guaranteed,” the municipality assures in a response to Dinheiro Vivo. “As the size of our aviation cluster is significant and recognized, we believe that everyone will have opportunities among the other companies already installed at the airport, the companies currently being installed and the companies that will soon be part of this ecosystem as well” the council added.
The L3Harris Airline Academy campus, spanning over 24,000 square feet, located on the Ponte de Sor Municipal Aerodrome, will not be vacant for long. The guarantee is given by the municipality led by Hugo Pereira Hilário, who adds that he already has the project for the new company that will operate there. “The facilities, which are owned by the municipality, will immediately be occupied by another operator in the same business area, who has acquired the assets of the company L3Harris. The company that has reached an agreement with L3, whose business plan is already known to the municipality proposes to create the conditions to have even more students in the short term and thus make the best use of the excellent infrastructures that will be available”, the Chamber said, without revealing the name of the new company that will settle in .
a failed venture
The multinational aerospace technology specialist, based in Florida, United States, arrived in Ponte de Sor in 2017 with the aim of expanding the training segment in Europe. The North American bought the operation of GAir, the pilot school then run by businessman Carlos Saraiva, and took over the company with ambitious expansion plans. The outlook was optimistic with all the pieces of the puzzle in place. The Ponte de Sor academy was already on the lips of the world, attracting around 150 students from dozens of nationalities every year. Hundreds of pilots from companies such as TAP, Air France, British Airways, Air Arabia, easyJet or Ryanair were trained at this school in Alto Alentejo. The quality of the infrastructure, which has already been the subject of a total investment of 40 million euros by the municipality with support from public funds, the favorable weather conditions for flights and the 1,800-meter runway are some of the factors that made the name echo of the congregation outside.
A few months after L3 took over the company, the director of the Airline Academy in Europe, Mário Spinola, revealed in a 2018 interview with Lusa that the company wanted to invest another eight million euros in infrastructure and hoped to have 500 students in a period of two months. year. But soon after, the problems started. In 2020, L3 suddenly terminated the contract with 120 students, who had already paid €80,000 in training and were unable to complete the training. The controversy was turned on its head, involving courts and damages. L3Harris claimed difficulties because of the pandemic, but the truth is that the restrictions started earlier. In 2018 and 2019, airlines had serious problems recruiting pilots and the lack of manpower led to a fierce hunt for these professionals. In this way, the pilots who were trainers at the academy in Ponte de Sor eventually stopped teaching, to join the various airlines, leaving the school devoid of professionals who could give practical lessons to hundreds of students.
After the last two years of the pandemic, in which the school resorted to state aid such as the layoffs, the start of 2022 did not bring a better wind. In March, the company’s employees were called to a meeting with the administration that raised the possibility of selling or closing the school. The confirmation came in the letter of resignation last August. “One of the reasons for this decision, according to L3 Harris Vice President David Coward, is the low demand for pilot training and the lack of optimistic prospects for the foreseeable future,” said a source close to the trial. , who questions the veracity of the arguments: “The schools in Cascais and Porto are full,” he complains, assuring that the Ponte de Sor academy has received several proposals from investors interested in buying the company .
Aviation cluster in Ponte de Sor
After the arrival of GAir in Ponte de Sor in 2013, the municipality has not been the same. Nine years ago, the first Portuguese aviation school moved to the municipal airport of Ponte de Sor. The arrival of hundreds of foreign students was a decisive milestone for the economic development of the province. From real estate to restoration, several businesses were affected. Interest from other international investors in the aerospace, aviation and aerospace sector has grown and today 14 companies are already located in what is known as the Ponte de Sor Aeronautical Cluster, which provides 300 jobs. 800 jobs will be added soon.
Three mobilizing agendas of the Recovery and Resilience Plan were recently approved, representing an investment of 200 million euros. “These projects range from the construction of the first Portuguese aircraft to the monitoring of space debris to the production of satellites. They will mark another milestone in the development of the entire region. It is estimated that more than 600 direct jobs The future of the aviation cluster Ponte de Sor will certainly be even more positive in the short and medium term,” the municipality said. Over the next two years, four more companies will join this cluster, creating another 200 jobs.
After the L3Harris group, the first Portuguese aviation school will change hands again. Founded by Colonel Victor Brito in 1980, first under the name Escola de Aviação Aeroavia (EAA) and later Escola de Aviação Aerocondor (EAA), the training academy has had several owners. In 2001 it was sold to the Spanish group Gestair, under the name Gestair Flying Academy. In 2013, it is sold to businessman Carlos Saraiva, who takes the company to Ponte de Sor and opens the GAir Training Center. The sale to L3Harris will be completed in 2017 and will end five years later. In Ponte de Sor, a new school for the training of cadets is being built.