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Students back in air in Modesto

A new flight school is taking off at Modesto Airport.

More than six months after the city's previous flight school closed, Modesto Aviation Inc. has opened, bringing private flight instruction, plane rental and maintenance back to the airport.

Owner Ralph Sauceda was an instructor at the old Modesto Flight Center for almost two years before it shut down at the end of January.

He said he started thinking about opening his own school almost immediately.

"All of us after the closure got together, other pilots and past students, and came to the conclusion that it would be better for the airport to have a flight school," he said. "I've never been to a city this large without a flight school."

The school opened its doors Tuesday. With Sauceda, it has three full-time instructors and one part-time one. The other full-time instructors are experienced pilots Larry Askew and Pat Titus.

Askew has been a flight instructor since 1976. He co-founded the Modesto Flight Center in 1983 and co-owned the school until 2007, when he sold it to Richard Corbett. Titus has been teaching flying since 1980.

Both said they came on board almost immediately with Sauceda.

"We didn't want to get out in the first place," Titus said of the other school's closure. "(Sauceda) is a real people person. He cares and has a very friendly, family- oriented atmosphere."

The school has a fleet of three planes — a Cessna 172, Piper Tomahawk and Evektor SportStar.

It offers flight instruction including private, commercial and light-sport certification and instrument ratings.

This is the first time light-sport training will be offered at the airport. The smaller, lighter planes have gained in popularity recently.

The school, in the building next to the old Flight Center on Tioga Drive, also will offer aircraft rentals, maintenance and pilot supplies.

Sauceda said several past members of the Flight Center have contacted him about the opening. The old school had about 350 clients who took lessons and rented planes.

But when the school closed, Sauceda said, all those pilots "had nowhere to go."

Still, the poor economy made it difficult to pull the new school together, he said.

"Some people thought I was crazy at first," he said. "The economy is bad, but there are still people who can and want to fly. Having Larry and Pat's support from the start, I knew I had a good team."

That team includes Sauceda's mother, Yolanda, the school's receptionist. While she doesn't fly, Sauceda credits her with getting him interested in aviation.

When he was 13, he went with her on a flight from Texas to California. He wandered into the cockpit, where a friendly co-pilot showed him the buttons. From then on, he was hooked.

"I didn't know where I would end up in aviation," Sauceda said. "I'm that co- pilot now for other people and that's a great thing."

Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at mrowland@modbee.com or 578-2284.

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