Aviation management students are playing catch up after a turbulent start to the school year.
“We’ve had a few problems over the summer, one was we were short a few airplanes at the Ottawa Flying Club but the other being that the other two flight schools that we work with are also short on flight instructors,” said aviation management program coordinator Bruce Dwyer.
Going to school to become a pilot is extremely expensive so oftentimes graduates are looking to reap the highest reward by taking the most well-paid jobs. In fact, Dwyer says the aviation management program is the most expensive program offered at Algonquin.
Students are facing nearly $85,000 worth of fees by the end of the program including tuition, uniform, textbooks, and flying costs.
And yet, the program still has an overwhelming number of students who are looking to take up aviation as a career.
Among them is Davede Vuckha, who says aviation has been a dream ever since he was a child.
“When I was in Grade 5 I said I wanted to be a pilot and I just stuck with it from there,” he said. For him, the feeling of being up in the air is worth every penny. “It’s the best feeling ever, it’s so peaceful.”
The program has been running since 2006 and has been successful. “Students are thrilled. We have students that graduate every year that go direct entry with Air Canada. Their first job after graduation is flying a jet for Air Canada Jazz,” said Bruce Dwyer. “When you have five or six students a year doing that, the popularity of the program grows and I guess that’s part of the problem; we are a victim of our own success.”
The program has seen immense growth over the past decades. In early years, the college had partnered with just the Ottawa Flying Club where students would learn how to actually fly in a plane. But as enrollment grew, they added a contract with Rockcliffe Flying Club and then Ottawa Aviation Services.
What’s more, the program decided this summer that they would push enrollment numbers from 60 to 80 students. They soon realized, however, that number was too high. But by the time they decided to scale back they had already accepted nearly that many students for this years’ classes.
“I think we got to the point this year where we had more students than we had available slots for, coupled with the fact that Ottawa Flying Club had some issues with their maintenance provider and the maintenance provider ended up terminating their contract and leaving,” said Dwyer. So there was a scramble to try and fix the planes which caused a delay in getting airtime for over 20 students.
A student who asked to remain anonymous was one of those assigned flight lessons with the Ottawa Flying Club and he said he wasn’t able to fly for an entire month. With so many days off, he tried to think of the best ways to get himself up in the air practicing, and would go to the club in the hopes of snagging one of the few planes available.
“The professor tells us sometimes you should just go to the place and wait for a cancellation, so most of the time I went there, there was nothing that really ever happened,” he said.
With the lack of planes, a hierarchy was put in place which left this aviation student without any airtime for weeks. But now with the fixes made, he plans on making up his hours throughout his winter break and in the summer.
Though students are facing issues right here in Ottawa, the aviation industry faces a global problem.
“We have the grey-out factor so there’s a lot of retirements happening in a short period of time and for the next 10 or 15 years they’re forecasting they’re going to have a dire shortage of pilots,” said Dwyer. At a time where the industry demands thousands of new pilots every year, Canada is only producing about 1,200 graduates each year, half of which are international students who return to their country of origin.
“We anticipate it’s going to impact the communities in the north first. They’re the ones that are going to see less service in terms of flights, and getting cargo in and out of those places is going to be harder and harder when there are fewer and fewer pilots to run those flights every day,” he said.
The teaching positions and entry-level pilot jobs need to be filled, yet with the low salary they offer coming out of an expensive program, there is no incentive to fill these important positions.
Dwyer believes there are solutions to this problem that can be fixed by the government, including implementing an OSAP plan similar to students who graduate from medical programs. They could offer graduates a loan or discount if they went to work up north or in the instructing industry for a few years, he believes.
Dwyer also suggests the federal government should produce a loan program for flight schools to buy more planes for students to train in.
Though there are theoretical solutions to this global problem, Canada has not yet implemented a sufficient solution to the fact that we will be in dire need of pilots. As for the aviation management program at this campus, Dwyer says they may have to dial back on the enrollment if there aren’t enough instructors and airplanes but, for now, that idea is up in the air.