When Gander is mentioned to pretty well anyone, something linked to aviation will invariably come to mind. However, it’s usually related to military themes or airline stopovers. And if you were told that Gander is home to an internationally renowned flight training school that has been attracting foreign students by the hundreds over the last 10 years, you would probably be surprised, perhaps even skeptical. But there it is, Gander Flight Training (GFT), and it is attracting students from Thailand, India, Turkey, Africa and South America.
When contacted by eFlight with the question, “Why Gander?”, GFT Aerospace’s general manager Darlene Colbourne cited what she’s heard from the students, “If you can fly in Gander, you can fly anywhere in the world.”
Kenyen native Charles Onyango says, “Once you get experience from here, you really won’t have any kind of problems flying anywhere else.” Onyango original had a South African school in his sights, but friends convinced him of the benefits training in Canada offers.
Said Indian student Mohammed Fazal in an interview with CBC, “The weather is really challenging, so you can become a really good pilot.”
GFT Aerospace currently has over 60 fulltime students, with almost half of them coming from Thailand. GFT has been under contract since 2007 to provide flight training to Rangsit University’s aviation diploma program. There are also five students from India and two from Colombia. Colbourne also mentions that about half of their students come from Canada.
On the flight line at GFT are 12 Cessna 150/152s, five 172s (two of which are IFR-certified), one Piper PA-44 Seminole (IFR-certified) and 5 Beechcraft 1900Ds. The latter aircraft form the core of sister company EVAS Air Tier III Air Canada Express fleet.
Exploits Valley Air Services (EVAS) was formed in 1992 when co-founder and current CEO Patrick White purchased a Cessna 150 and offered flight training at Botwood airport (CCP2) in Newfoundland. The following year White moved the operation to Gander (CYQX), where he completed the school’s first Air Cadet Flying Scholarship program. Growth has been steadily increasing since.
White’s wife and EVAS Air/GFT co-owner Florence cites tangible financial benefits to the local economy as well as students rent, eat, work and spend money in Gander.
Canada’s immigration and employment laws allow some foreign students to stay on as flight instructors, and some are able to fly right seat in EVAS Air’s charter fleet. At least one foreign student has decided to set down roots, buying a house in Gander.