A new bush pilot training course is due to begin in Vanderhoof this May.
The course is being offered through the College of New Caledonia (CNC) and is the first of its kind in northern B.C.
Program Coordinator, Ty Roberts, says the course will train students to fly small planes in some of the most difficult conditions.
Vanderhoof is the perfect place for training pilots who are targeting northern air carriers as their first employment, according to Roberts.
“The community has a long established history with aviation,” he said.
“It used to be a very busy airport here – it was a jumping off place to the North and it used to have the second largest air show in B.C.”
CNC will deliver the academic side of the program, that will include university level courses in business, as well as other things “we want pilots to know,” according to Roberts.
Guardian Aerospace, headed by pilot Eric Stier, will provide the flight training.
Roberts says it’s an extremely efficient and safe place for new pilots to train.
“It’s very close by to the types of air strips that are in the mountains that you are going to be going into on your first job,” he said.
He added that having the mountains not far away and a large number of small, unimproved bush airstrips, provides the conditions that pilots need to learn to fly in very early on.
“You get mountain winds, and the illusions of terrain and flying in mountains in rain and those sorts of things,” he said.
Learning to fly in such conditions means pilots who complete the program can, pretty much, fly anywhere.
“The program here really is about becoming very good at flying single engine airplanes in visual flight conditions – we would think that this program would train you to work anywhere,” said Roberts.
CNC is also looking as acquiring two Redbird flight simulators for the program, one to be based at the college and one at the Vanderhoof airport.
If we get these simulators, we will be the first training organization to use them in the visual flight mode which means you look out the window and you see what’s out there,” said Roberts.
“If you fly over Vanderhoof you will look down and see these buildings – it’s extremely simulated.
“You can fly anywhere in the world in them and it allows you to introduce weather and lower visibility, so you can put yourself in am actual mountain pass for example,” he said.
CNC are waiting on a decision from a funding application to Western Economic Diversification before the simulators can be purchased.
Funding has already been approved by the Nechako-Kitamaat Development Fund and the Northern Developments Initiative.
The new program is well timed, with a looming pilot shortage expected to become evident in the coming months.
The shortage has been accelerated after a Federal Court of Appeal ruling last week that decided that forcing airline pilots to retire at 60, might not be age discrimination.
“The initiating event in the shortage is that the baby boomer generation of pilots are becoming too old to fly in the airlines, and that may be accelerated because there’s now been this reverse ruling of the federal court of appeal,” said Roberts.
“So what that means is the airlines…will go to the mid-level carriers like Northern Thunderbird in Prince George…and they will take their pilots, and the mid-level carriers come to the small carriers and they take out their pilots who have got a bit of experience, and the small carriers are the ones left looking for new pilots – it’s a domino affect” he said.
Whilst the program will be largely based upon remote, wilderness flying, Roberts says there’s nothing to stop pilots going on to work for a major airline.
So far five people have expressed an interest in signing up to the 20-month course.