Pilot Tim Holt guided a group of students through each step of his pre-flight checklist on the edge of the runway and then invited them to climb aboard the aircraft and fasten their seat belts.
With blue skies over their heads, their fourth visit to Moncton Flight College finally resulted in clear flight conditions – with a bit of a gusty wind.
The three future pilots and their instructor hurried down the flight school runway, gained speed, lifted and set a precedent – the first flight in New Brunswick as part of a high school class.
Holt, who has been an instructor for three years, said it was a thrill to bring them up.
“In the air, one of the students took control and they flew,” he said, noting that the student said it was “harder than they expected it to be.”
The new flight course, offered at JMA Armstrong High School in Salisbury, just west of Moncton, is offered in partnership with Moncton Flight College.
Inspired by a similar program in Woodstockit focuses mainly on compulsory school requirements for obtaining a private pilot’s certificate.
SE / High school flight program takes off
It all started when local pilot Jim Lockyer suggested the idea of a flying course to his neighbor, Jill Tippett, a high school teacher.
A collaboration was formed with the School of Aviation and the high school began offering the class in January.
The points students earn in compulsory school are counted as both upper secondary school points and a modular pilot certificate, if they choose to continue their education.
They learn about meteorology, engines, flight theory, navigation and Canadian aviation rules – all the basics required by Transport Canada. The impact of human factors such as fatigue, stress and medical problems is also discussed.
Holt said that time in the classroom is a good introduction to how much work goes into a career as a pilot.
“I like to joke that flying is equal parts paperwork and flying,” he said.
“It takes a lot of preparation, knowing what the weather will be like, knowing what route to take, knowing how the weather will affect that route.”
The flight students spent a full day visiting Moncton Flight College in Dieppe on Wednesday, putting the theory they had learned in the classroom into practice.
Anna Paradis, coordinator of experiential learning for the Anglophone East School District, said the visit offered an “incredible” opportunity to learn outside the classroom.
“We’ve never had high school students boarding an airplane, so this is the first time it’s ever going to happen in New Brunswick, which’s really exciting,” she said.
“Hopefully we will be able to provide the same opportunity to other districts that have an aviation program as well.”
The students spent time getting up in the air with Holt, learning about aircraft maintenance, practicing with a flight simulator and touring around campus.
The student in year 12, Ryan McDermott, sat behind the controls in the simulator’s cockpit, where he took off over Greater Moncton and then came in for a landing – one of the few who managed to land on the first try.
“It’s different when you just do it on paper, you have more time to think about it,” McDermott said.
“Once you’re in there, you’re just in place – you need to know.”
Growing aviation sector
McDermott said his experience of the course has piqued his interest in a career in air traffic control.
He is not alone.
Holt said that several students are showing interest in pursuing careers in the field after graduation.
As covid-19 restrictions are lifted around the world, the pent-up demand for air travel begins to pick up. There is pressure on short-staffed airlines and airports to fill positions if routes are added.
Holt said the industry is expected to grow and create demand for aviation jobs, ranging from pilots to air traffic controllers.
“It does not have to be just an airline job, it can be a flight instructor job, it can be a bush job, it can be firefighting,” he said.
“It’s amazing. It’s something that when I went to high school I really wish I had the opportunity to do.”