Pilot Tim Holt walked a group of students through each step of his pre-flight checklist on the side of the runway, then invited them to board the plane and fasten their seat belts.
With blue skies above their heads, their fourth visit to Moncton Flight College finally resulted in clear flying conditions – with a bit of gusty wind.
The three would-be pilots and their instructor raced down the flight school runway, gaining speed, taking off and setting 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 pleasure to follow them.
“In the air, one of the students took the controls and they were flying,” he said, noting that the student said it was “harder than they expected.”
The new aviation course, offered at JMA Armstrong High School in Salisbury, just west of Moncton, is offered in partnership with the Moncton Flight College.
Inspired by a program similar to Woodstockit focuses primarily on the ground school requirements for obtaining a private pilot license.
WATCH / High School Aviation Program Takeoff
It all started when local pilot Jim Lockyer suggested the idea of an aviation course to his neighbor, Jill Tippett, a high school teacher.
A partnership was formed with the flying college and the high school began offering the course in January.
The credits students earn during ground school count as both high school credits and toward a modular pilot license, if they choose to continue their education.
They learn meteorology, engines, theory of flight, navigation and Canadian aviation regulations – all the basics required by Transport Canada. There is also a discussion of the impact of human factors such as fatigue, stress and medical issues.
Holt said the time spent in class is a good introduction to the amount of work that goes into a career as a pilot.
“I like to joke that aviation is equal parts paperwork and flying,” he said.
“It takes a lot of preparation, knowing what the weather will be like, knowing the route you’re about to take, knowing how the weather is going to affect that route.”
The aviation students spent an entire day touring the Moncton Flight College in Dieppe on Wednesday, putting into practice the theory they had learned in class.
Anna Paradis, experiential learning coordinator for the Anglophone East School District, said the visit provided an “incredible” opportunity to learn outside of the classroom.
“We’ve never seen high school students get on planes, so this is the first time it’s going to happen in New Brunswick, which is really exciting,” she said.
“I hope we can provide the same opportunity to other districts that also have an aviation program.”
Students spent time in the air with Holt, learned about aircraft maintenance, trained with a flight simulator, and toured the campus.
Grade 12 student Ryan McDermott was at the controls of the simulator cockpit, where he took off over Greater Moncton and then came in for a landing – one of the few to pull off a first-time landing.
“It’s different when you do it on paper, you have more time to think about it,” McDermott said.
“When you’re in there, you’re right there – you have to know.”
Booming aerospace sector
McDermott said his experience in the course piqued his interest in a career in air traffic control.
He is not alone.
Holt said several students show an interest in pursuing a career in the field after graduation.
As COVID-19 restrictions are eased around the world, pent-up demand for air travel is starting to take off. This is pushing short-staffed airlines and airports to fill positions where routes are added.
Holt said the industry is expected to grow and create demand for aviation jobs ranging from pilots to air traffic control.
“It doesn’t just have to be an airline job, it could be a flight instructor job, it could be a bush job, it could be a firefighter,” he said.
“It’s fantastic. It’s something I really wish I had done when I was in high school.”