A two-year Aviation Management diploma program has begun at the Terry Harrold School of Aviation in Fort Smith, Northwest Territories. First reported on in the April 26, 2019 edition of eFlight, six students have now signed up and begun their academic training. The school, in operation since May 2019, has been offering flight training only since then to individuals completing their private pilot licence (PPL), which was done outside of the diploma program that is now underway.

Students entering the program have no prior aviation experience. The program is designed so that successful graduates will leave with a commercial pilot licence (CPL) with multi-engine and float ratings in addition to their management diploma.

All six students are from the North, and it is hoped that they will stay and build their careers there, allowing for local knowledge, which is lost when southern-based pilots return south after building time in the North, to stay and help improve aviation safety in the northern territories.

Northwest Air Lease (NAL), which is providing the flight training and is a general aviation operator based in Fort Smith, currently sees a revolving door of pilots. “We have nobody [pilots] from the North that flies with us, they’re all from the South,” said Jim Heidema, NAL’s chief operating officer. “They come up, they stay with us two to five years and then they’re gone.”

“Flying up here is different than to fly down South where there’s lots of resources,” chief flight instructor Raphaël Jeansonne-Gélinas told CBC News. “Here, we’re more [by] ourselves, so we need to have better specific skills.”

Loyal Letcher is one of the students in the program and aspires to one day opening his own flying business in Fort Simpson. “I hope to be able to fly a plane after this, but the business management skills that they give me will be useful in the future,” he said.

Added NAL’s Heidema, “I guarantee it — they will get jobs, either with us or with others. There’s a huge thirst in the North for pilots.”