British Columbia

Driving, flying lessons suspended over social distancing concerns in B.C.

Some flight schools in B.C. have yet to suspend lessons, despite directives from health officials to maintain proper social distance to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Others are grounded, and Young Drivers of Canada has also cancelled at least two weeks of lessons.

Young Drivers of Canada and Pacific Rim Aviation Academy both announced suspended lessons Friday

Young Drivers of Canada is cancelling hundreds of lessons over the next two weeks, as the response to the COVID-19 pandemic requires people to maintain proper social distance. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

As businesses and services grind to a halt or dramatically alter how they operate to ensure directives from health officials are being met, the message about reducing the spread of COVID-19 is starting to land with flight schools.

Some driving schools are also finding it hard to ensure the proper social distance within the confines of a car, and they're hitting the brakes on lessons.

Pacific Rim Aviation Academy in Pitt Meadows was still taking students into the air on Friday — with thorough sanitary precautions — but decided late in the day to halt instruction beginning Monday morning.

According to Masa Tsujino, chief flight instructor at the academy, many students were already cancelling lessons, but the school has taken a cue from other flight schools in the region and decided to shut down.

At Langley Flying School, chief instructor David Parry said on Friday that lessons were still underway, with careful precautions.

Parry said there was a declaration form at the entrance that students had to fill out each day stating whether they had any risk factors for COVID-19. The students also had to thoroughly disinfect the cockpit, touch points and controls before each lesson.

The tight shoulder-to-shoulder cockpits don't allow for much space between instructor and student, though, and Parry said the school was ready to shut down at any moment.

The small airplanes used for lessons — like this Cessna — don't allow for much space between the student and instructor. (Konwicki Marcin/Shutterstock)

"We're doing the best we can do, and if health officials say we should discontinue operations, flight training, small operations, we would do so," he said, adding that the one-on-one situation of a flight lesson is much different than that of a crowded restaurant or bar.

Parry said he's tuning into provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry's daily briefings to take direction from her.

Driving lessons also put on hold

Young Drivers of Canada also shut down on Friday, cancelling 1,600 lessons over the next two weeks.

Greater Vancouver regional education manager Kurtis Strelau said business had already slowed, as students and instructors opted to avoid the close quarters of the vehicles.

"In keeping with community-based social distancing measures to mitigate the spread of disease, we've decided to suspend in-class and in-car lessons," said Strelau on Friday.

He said the company was carefully sanitizing the vehicles and maintaining social distance in the classrooms, but the time had come to put things on hold until the coronavirus situation improved. He said some Young Drivers franchises in Ontario had already stopped giving lessons.

"It's time. We didn't take the decision lightly, but we thought it was the right thing to do," said Strelau.

He said instructors were being paid for late cancellations, but now they'll all have to be laid off until business resumes.

Strelau pointed out that ICBC has already suspended road tests due to the pandemic.

If you have a COVID-19-related story we should pursue that affects British Columbians, please email us at impact@cbc.ca.  

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About the Author

Rafferty Baker is a video journalist with CBC News, based in Vancouver. You can find his stories on CBC Radio, television, and online at cbc.ca/bc.

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