The Terry Harrold School of Aviation opened its doors this month in Fort Smith, the only flight school operating in the Northwest Territories. A division of Northwestern Air Lease (NWAL), the school is partnering with the Pentecostal Sub-Arctic Leadership College (PSALT) to offer newly-trained commercial pilots a diploma in Aviation Management.

“We want to attract Indigenous and non-Indigenous people from the North [to the aviation school] in hopes that we can slow down the revolving door,” NWAL’s Chief Administrative Operator Jim Heidema, told local media outlet Cabin Radio when NWAL began the process of obtaining Transport Canada certification for the school last year.

Heidema cites southern-based regional airlines who come to the North to ‘poach’ pilots for their own operations, leaving northern operations with a dearth of experienced pilots with northern experience.

“It’s disheartening,” said Heidema. “We had one person start on a Monday and leave on a Friday.”

NWAL was founded in 1965 by Terry Harrold and, in addition to its roots as a charter operator, has grown to become a regional airline, offering scheduled passenger service from Fort Smith to both Edmonton and Yellowknife, among other northern destinations using BAe Jetstream turbo-props. The company also operates a DHC Twin Otter and Cessna 185, 206 and 210 airplanes.

NWAL recently purchased and refurbished a Cessna 172 to serve as a primary training aircraft for the school, and is looking at adding additional trainers.

This Cessna 172 underwent a $100,000 refurbishment last year to prepare it for flight training.

So far, over 40 people have expressed an interest in the training opportunity. “This school is not only for Northwestern Air Lease,” Heidema, who also serves as the administrator of the fledgling flight school, said. “It’s for the North.”