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Updated Mar 17, 2014 - 10:35 am

Phoenix instructor helps fearful overcome aversion to flying

PHOENIX -- The disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has caused second thoughts about getting on a plane for a lot of people.

Ron Nielsen is a retired U.S. Airways pilot who has a Master's degree in professional counseling. He runs Fearless Flight, a program that helps fearful flyers through classes at Sky Harbor Airport and actually taking a flight on an airplane.

Ever since the Malaysia Airlines plane disappeared, his phone has been ringing off the hook. "I actually had to stop the registrations this week because I don't think we can fit anyone else in the room at Sky Harbor airport," Nielsen said.

Nielsen said the number calls that he has received in the past week is similar to how many he got right after Sept. 11.

During an appearance on KTAR'S Arizona's Morning News Weekend Show, Nielsen talked about a recent student. "He had three weeks before a surprise trip to England on behalf of his fiancée," said Nielsen. "He said 'I gotta get over this or I might not have a fiancée any more." The man was able to make the trip after attending classes.

The program included two classes on the ground, one of which is inside an airplane. In a third, optional class, students buy a ticket and go on a flight.

As for the Malaysia disappearance, Nielsen believed that as soon as investigators found out that the plane turned away from its scheduled flight path, they should have known that it was a deliberate act by whoever was in the cockpit.

"When you're flying along, particularly over extended over water flights, it is required that you notify the controlling agency when you change course," he said. That wasn't done in this instance.

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About the Author


Years with the company: I started on January 2, 2006.

Education: I was born in San Antonio, Texas, but we moved to Phoenix when I was one-year-old in 1957. I grew up here and graduated from Alhambra High School and attended Phoenix College.

Family: I am married to my wife Rene', who is a librarian in the Washington school district. During free time, I may be found playing basketball in the driveway with my son, Devin. He's also keeping me busy with school, Little League, and playing in chess tournaments around the Valley.

Favorite food: Lots of favorite food, but our favorite restaurant is Fajitas.

Favorite spot in Arizona: The Little America Hotel in Flagstaff.

Favorite news memory: We have to go back to October 15, 1979. I was a country music air personality at KROP Radio in Brawley, California, when we had a 6.7 earthquake. Thankfully, there were no deaths and only minor injuries, but the entire community was pretty freaked out and listening to the station on their transistor radios. I would not want to go through an earthquake again, but it sure was a great night to work in radio and see how it can make a difference in people's lives.

First job: Working as a stringer for 'The Arizona Republic' at high school football games. My first real job was flipping burgers at the old Sandy's Hamburgers at 51st Avenue and Indian School Road. My first radio job was as announcer at KALJ radio in Yuma in 1977.

First concert: Doug Oldham gospel concert in the 1970s at the old East High School in Phoenix.

Favorite sports team: Phoenix Roadrunners minor league hockey. My dad took me to a game when I was in grade school, and I was hooked. I wanted to be a radio hockey play-by-play man. I used to take my cassette recorder and sit up in the rafters of the Coliseum and do play-by-play. It was great later in life to also take my son to Roadrunners games. Too bad the team just folded, I'll miss them. (Going to the Coyotes is fun, but they're not "my" team.)

Outside interests: My family and I are active in our church - Northern Hills Community Church in Phoenix. We enjoy going to movies, sporting events, and like to vacation at the Beach Cottages in the Pacific Beach area of San Diego. And I love to play catch, basketball, football with my son.

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