Mount Royal University seeks more instructors as demand for pilots grows

People attending the aviation career expo at Mount Royal University Saturday, March 11, 2017 use a flight simulator. Carolyn Kury de Castillo, Global News

It’s been nearly a month since a plane crash killed two Mount Royal University aviation instructors. On Saturday, the university hosted an aviation career expo to help pilots expand their networking circles and to recruit new pilots. But the fate of the annual event was in question after the deaths of Jeff Bird and Reyn Johnson.

“We decided to go ahead for two very good reasons. Jeff and Reyn. Those guys had a lot of passion for the industry. I think they would have wanted us to continue their legacy by instilling that in to other people,” said Leon Cygman, chair of the Mount Royal University Aviation program.

READ MORE: Flight instructors killed in plane crash near Calgary were experienced pilots: Mount Royal University president

Mount Royal University has since voluntarily grounded the school’s two remaining Tecnam P2006T twin engine airplanes. It was a twin engine that crashed in February west of Calgary. No students have bowed out of the program since the tragedy. In fact, the school has seen an increase in the number of applications this year.

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“Typically we get about 90 applicants a year. This year our applicant pool is about 120,” said Cygman.

Aviation students are still able to fly the five single engine Cessna 172 airplanes. However, the second year students’ graduation will be delayed.

“We are taking some of our curriculum and moving them into the singles. We are also getting planes from our partner flight training schools. And we are also in the process of trying to find a twin that we can lease in the short term. We are scanning the country. We have some brokers working with us to be able to locate airplanes for us. We hope to have an airplane within the next month,” said Cygman.

READ MORE: Pilot killed in MRU plane crash remembered for dedication to his family

The Transportation Safety Board has said it will be challenging to determine what exactly caused the crash that killed Bird and Johnson. The plane’s major components were destroyed and it wasn’t carrying a cockpit voice recorder or flight data recorder which is not a requirement with that type of plane.

At the end of April, Cygman said Mount Royal University will have only three aviation instructors, down from 11. Many have been snapped up by airlines recently because of the demand for pilots.

“There are lots of jobs. This is a great time to get into the industry. People are flying more and airlines like Air Canada are expanding their routes they need more pilots,” said Cygman.

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“It’s ramping up quite quickly,” said Encore pilot Tyler Dowell, who was greeting people at the WestJet booth at the career expo. WestJet Encore is a wholly owned subsidiary of WestJet.

“At WestJet this year we’re looking at hiring just over 300 pilots just in 2017 alone which is probably one of our highest, if not our highest, hiring years that we’ve ever done in the history of WestJet in 21 years.”

“One thing that helps us now, I know it doesn’t help a lot of Albertans, but the low cost of oil. Fuel is a huge cost of the airline and that keeps our cost down and it helps keep our fares low, which is good for the consumers and that helps fuel a lot of the expansion that we see,” said Dowell.

Normally, newly graduated pilots must fly with small local companies with little pay, just to get the required hours to fly the larger planes. But pilot Amber Gladue is now flying with Jazz. She was one of the Jazz representatives at the career expo. Gladue graduated from Mount Royal just last year. She credits good marks, high demand and Mount Royal’s reputation.

Women still only make up for around 10 to 15 per cent of the students at the aviation school.

“I still can’t really believe it sometimes that I get to do this but it’s such a great opportunity and I’m really honoured that I got to do it,” said Gladue.

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A recent report from Boeing warns of pilot and crew shortage. It predicts that over the next 20 years, over 600,000 commercial pilots will be required globally.

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