At a well-attended British Columbia Aviation Council (BCAC) conference in Kelowna last week, COPA president and CEO Bernard Gervais joined a panel consisting of four other national aviation leaders from across Canada to present and discuss the state of aviation in Canada. The theme of the conference – Managing The Future Today – focussed on current challenges facing the aviation industry.

Gervais’ presentation highlighted the industry’s labour shortage, the cost of training, crowded airspace and even the social licence from local communities for flight training units (FTU) to operate.

Noting that several large FTUs are clearly humming with activity, Gervais pointed out that in 2006, 81 percent of commercial pilots (CPL – Aeroplane) who graduated from Canadian FTUs were Canadian, and only 19 percent were foreign graduates. Fast forward to 2018 and the picture is very different: less than half of the CPL – Aeroplane graduates were Canadian (48.5 percent). Commercial helicopter pilot numbers came in slightly more positive, with 65 percent being Canadian graduates.

Gervais added that there are fewer FTUs operating in outlying areas, citing the presence of only one FTU in the Yukon and none in either the Northwest Territories or Nunavut. Furthermore, he added, a shortage of flight instructors means many student-pilots are turned away from the bigger FTUs if they don’t participate in the college program most are linked with.

“The first step in any pilot’s career is through the front door of a flight school,” said COPA’s president.

Potential solutions that Gervais put forth include more funding for airport maintenance and improvement, making training for commercial licences eligible for student financial assistance, and permitting flight training to take place out of the classic FTU environment by allowing more freelance flight instruction to take place.

“We need a National General Aviation Strategy to support flight training and community airports,” said Gervais. “We need to recognize that GA as an integral and necessary part of the transportation system in Canada.”