By Alex McCuaig, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Medicine Hat News (Photo: Super T Aviation)
The return of regular weekday flights Monday between the city and Calgary represents a major turning point for Medicine Hat as pandemic restrictions ease and international travel is within sight.
But the pandemic may only serve to exacerbate a pilot shortage in the long-term, according to the owner of a Medicine Hat flight training and charter provider.
Terri Super, owner of Super-T Aviation, says she initially thought they might be in for a slow recovery but, “Now I think it’s going to be more like a shotgun.”
The pandemic saw the burgeoning use of the municipal airport stall for flight training as cadets, high schools and the college began flight training to meet the anticipated shortage of pilots globally.
But Super says the charter end of her business was handed a welcome and rewarding lifeline earlier this year which is just wrapping up: A contract to ferry workers daily to and from Kapuskasing to Kashechewan, Ont. to help build temporary housing for the problem-plagued community most recently hit with a COVID outbreak.
“We’re pretty proud of our guys,” said Super, who says they were able to help because of the dearth of work.
But with many pilots leaving the industry at the end of their careers as COVID took hold and many newer ones not having opportunities, when the planes once again take to the air, there will be challenges.
Keen graduates of the training program just prior to the pandemic, “they went North,” said Super. “They didn’t want to get out of flying because there were no jobs and found a way to stay in it.”
She said the current situation is reminiscent of the early 1980s and the impacts of then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s National Energy Program that sent the aviation industry into a tailspin.
Then, like now, the recovery saw pilots come out of the bush for opportunities.
Super says with many pilots requiring training to get back up to speed, “that’s a huge amount of retraining just to restart the airline.”
She called Monday’s resumption of WestJet Link service to Medicine Hat, “a good start,” adding, “I think we’ll see a big surge.”
The Medicine Hat College announced this month its first class of graduates from its aviation management program.
The Southern Alberta Flight Academy is also continuing as it becomes a popular class among local high school students.