Just a few miles outside of Mankato, Minnesota, lies a hidden gem. Few people realize there is an impressive aviation hub at the Mankato Regional Airport, housing Minnesota State University, Mankato’s Aviation program, North Star Aviation Flight School, and PRO TRAIN Aviation.
“We’re developing an aviation training hub in Mankato, as well as other aviation-related businesses,” said Jason Ceminsky, program manager, instructor and examiner for PRO TRAIN Aviation. “We have become known as a pilot training magnet for the Midwest.”
Although a modest Ceminsky credits the nationally known MSU aviation program, it’s clear his contribution to PRO TRAIN has helped build that reputation over the last 12 years.
North Star Aviation started PRO TRAIN in 1998. Whereas North Star provides general flight training to MSU aviation students and the general public, PRO TRAIN offers specialized training courses and pilot evaluations for the Beechjet series of aircraft.
Ceminsky, who served in the Air Force as an officer and pilot before beginning a career as a corporate pilot, found himself in need of a career change during the recession of 2009.
“As happenstance would be, I fell into this job at PRO TRAIN,” Ceminsky said. “When I came to the company, North Star had it in operation, but it was a little bit dormant. So it was one of those perfect coincidences where I really needed a job because there weren’t a lot of aviation jobs during the recession, and we made an agreement to reinvigorate PRO TRAIN.”
Ceminsky more than just fell into the job. His extensive experience made him the right person to take PRO TRAIN to the next level.
Ceminsky came into the position with years of experience as an instructor in the B-2 Stealth Bomber. As a member of the Air National Guard, he flew numerous assignments for the Air Force, including two Afghanistan combat tours. He also served as an Air Force T-38 pilot, and a T-1A and C-130 instructor pilot.
During his time in the Air Force, Ceminsky received his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the U.S. Air Force Academy and has since completed his master of business administration in aviation.
In addition to his experience in the Air Force, Ceminsky is now an airline transportation pilot, a certified flight instructor and an FAA-designated pilot examiner.
In 2012 PRO TRAIN became a separate entity from North Star Aviation, with Ceminsky leading the charge. Since then, he has developed his Beechjet specialty into a convenient training service for businesses and pilots worldwide by offering on-site training in a client’s aircraft or allowing customers to come to Mankato to learn by flying one of the PRO TRAIN Beechjets. This allows Ceminsky and his staff to tailor their training to the specific nuances of each individual jet.
PRO TRAIN focuses on the Beechjet series aircraft, which are small- to medium-sized corporate transport aircraft for business travelers. It is flown by two pilots and typically seats between eight and 10 people. There are several variations of avionics, or aviation electronics, in each specific Beechjet. The avionics include the electrical equipment used in aircraft, such as navigation, weather radar and radio communication equipment.
“Each jet aircraft, while they all share similar characteristics, all have nuances, as well; different limitations and different emergency procedures,” Ceminsky said. “So that is why it’s required they receive specialized training on their specific aircraft.”
PRO TRAIN aircraft in its hangar.
A Beechjet is used primarily for the business purposes of Fortune 500 to Fortune 1000 companies. These large companies own their own aircraft and employ their own pilots.
“This is all a part of what we call business aviation,” Ceminsky said. “It’s a whole subset of commercial aviation, separate from the airlines.”
What makes business aviation unique is the efficiency of using a corporate aircraft to visit multiple clients in multiple cities around the country in one day. In addition, corporate aircraft aren’t limited to the 400 commercial airports in the United States. According to Ceminsky, over 5,000 smaller airports like Mankato Regional Airport can be utilized by a corporate aircraft.
PRO TRAIN caters to business aviation by providing convenient, on-site training in the pilot’s or business’s own jet.
“Our emphasis is personalized, specialized training,” Ceminsky said. “We do the training wherever our customers are based.”
Roughly 80 percent of his clients have their training done on-site. Ceminsky serves clients all over the world, including the Middle East, Columbia, Europe, and Guatemala.
Carlos Granda is a pilot for Cadence Holdings in Guatemala. He has taken two recurrent training sessions with Ceminsky in the last year. Ceminsky’s knowledge of varying avionics and ability to take the training to Granda has been very beneficial to him.
Because of the different jets used by Cadence Holdings, Ceminsky provided training for Granda and other Cadence Holdings pilots in both Miami and Guatemala.
“After Miami, Ceminsky came to Guatemala for the other crew of the Beechjet 400 because the avionics are not the same as mine,” Granda said. “I did some training on the Garmin 5000, the Proline 4 and the differences in between.”
Ceminsky’s vast flight experience allows him to understand the nuances of each particular jet and avionics system. This is no easy task considering the dozens of models of Beechcraft jets.
“He has a ton of experience flying this kind of airplane,” said pilot Drew Fraber, of Omaha, Nebraska. “He probably knows as much if not more than the manufacturers.”
Fraber flies for a private individual’s multiple businesses. He has done recurrent training with Ceminsky, as well as the check ride to upgrade from his commercial license to ATP.
“Jason can do the check ride and the recurrent training all in one ride,” Fraber said.
Fraber has used other aircraft training businesses in the past. Across the country, many facilities provide simulator training. PRO TRAIN does its training in actual jets instead of simulators. It’s what makes PRO TRAIN stand out from the competition.
According to Fraber, simulators are designed to be accurate and realistic, but as similar as they try to make them to actual aircraft, it just isn’t the same. Training pilots in their own aircraft over a simulator provides a more in-depth understanding of risk management and cockpit resource management.
“Flying is a huge benefit to being in an aircraft over a simulator. A simulator just can’t 100 percent replicate the feel of an airplane,” Fraber said. “The recurrent training with PRO TRAIN covered all the same required items that a simulator training does, but you get a much more realistic, real-world understanding of what the aircraft is capable of. It made our confidence go sky high.”
Getting the feel of a scenario in a real aircraft assures pilots they will be able to handle a similar situation if it arises during a flight.
“When you do a scenario with Jason, you have a little more confidence that if it really happened, you would be comfortable with how to handle it,” Fraber said. “Jason has been in the aircraft and has flown the aircraft himself, so he can lay out the information very plainly.”
PRO TRAIN offers three main courses of instruction. Initial Training is a 10- to 14-day program for pilots new to the Beechjet. This course includes ground school training on systems, emergencies, and procedures; flight training; and the pilot’s final certification.
As an FAA-designated pilot examiner, Ceminsky can certify pilots for the FAA. Across the country, FAA DPEs like Ceminsky certify 98 percent of all pilots in the country for the FAA.
“The FAA only has a certain amount of bandwidth,” Fraber said. “So, what they do is give a blessing to certain people in the country, and then they can go out and do check rides on behalf of the FAA.”
This is no small blessing to Ceminsky, considering that every 12 months those same jet pilots need to be recertified as a requirement of the FAA.
The Recurrent Course offered by PRO TRAIN is a three-day course held at the customer’s location, and provides the annual training and education required for FAA annual recertifications. According to Ceminsky, the Recurrent Course has become their niche in the industry.
“I also have authorization from the FAA to provide that recertification for jet pilots,” Ceminsky said. “We are the only ones in the country that can do it, so it keeps us very busy.”
The final course is the Military Airline Transport Pilot, which provides military pilots with the final flight check needed to fly corporate aircraft.
“That has been really fun for us because of my military background,” Ceminsky said. “We bring quite a few military pilots here as well when they are getting ready to transition out of the Air Force.”
Since the military uses the Beechjet for its pilot training, it has been a seamless transition for pilots needing a final check ride from PRO TRAIN. Typically it can be completed in one day.
Instruction for the various training options includes ground and flight training based on a rigorous PRO TRAIN syllabus, customer standard operating procedures, FAA airman certification standards, and a strict safety policies manual.
Another perk of being a pilot examiner for the FAA is that Ceminsky can assist with testing for MSU aviation students as they go through their course. The program currently consists of nearly 550 students. The bachelor of science in aviation program requires seven check rides over four years. That includes private pilot, instrument pilot, and commercial pilot check rides.
Although Ceminsky employs four part-time instructors to help with flight instruction, he is the only examiner at PRO TRAIN. On average, PRO TRAIN administers 100 jet certifications and another 100 general pilot certifications per year. For jet certifications, he provides the service worldwide. However, on smaller aircraft, he chooses to limit the certifications he administers to Minnesota.
Jason Ceminsky in the cockpit
“There is really no one else in the country that can do what I do,” Ceminsky said. “No one else in the world can do the certifications for the Beechjet pilots.”
Ceminsky’s work has been vital in recent years because of the current pilot shortage in the United States.
“Being an FAA-designated pilot examiner allows me to help get new pilots trained and in the sky,” Ceminsky said. “There is a huge pilot shortage in our country. Airlines are canceling flights because they don’t have pilots, and the aviation industry cannot train them fast enough.”
According to Ceminsky, this is not a quick fix. It takes years to train a pilot and then years of experience to get them to the level of flying a jet aircraft as an ATP.
“Having your private license is like having your bachelor’s degree, having your commercial is like having your masters and having your ATP is like having your doctorate,” Fraber said. “Having an ATP makes you a lot more marketable. You really can’t have a serious aviation career without getting that ATP, especially if you ever want to fly for an airline or upgrade to captain at a charter company.”
For any upcoming pilots, Ceminsky says the appeal of business aviation is variety. Commercial airline schedules are very regimented, but corporate pilots cover the gamut of locations and can develop relationships with the clients they are consistently transporting.
“What I love about it is the variety,” Ceminsky said. “Every day is something new for corporate pilots.”
Pilots interested in advancing their skills or aviation enthusiasts seeking a degree just need to travel to Mankato to the training hub at the Mankato Regional Airport.
“The cool thing about pilots is that they all spread out and go to different places,” Ceminsky said. “But they all remember they got their training in Mankato and have good feelings about that.”
Mankato Aviation Hub’s positive reputation and growing worldwide presence in aviation are partially thanks to Ceminsky and his work through PRO TRAIN Aviation.
“He’s an incredible guy,” Fraber said. “He is laid back in how he approaches training, but he makes sure you are comfortable and get value out of your training. He’s not just passing through. He’s there for you.”
“He is great at what he does, knowing the different nuances of each Beechjet,” Granda said. “As an instructor, he’s great and as a person, the same.”
Even though PRO TRAIN keeps Ceminsky busy, he continues to stay active in the community as an Air Force reservist. Locally he serves on the Visit Mankato board, the Mankato Airport Commission, and the North Mankato Planning Commission.
Photography by Jonathan Smith