Calgary Flying Club plans to triple enrolment as demand for commercial pilots soars

The Calgary Flying Club plans to nearly triple the number of training spots in its commercial pilot licence program, as demand for pilots soars across Canada and around the world.

Club considering adding more instructors or 2nd location to meet demand

Demand for commercial pilots is spiking as the airline industry grows and older pilots retire. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

The Calgary Flying Club plans to nearly triple the number of training spots in its commercial pilot licence program, as demand for pilots soars across Canada and around the world.

"We've seen this demand ramp up over about the last two years. It became acute about a year ago," said Calgary Flying Club CEO Bill Beaton. "We're still seeing demand exceeding our capacity."

The flying club usually trains 20 to 25 commercial pilots annually, but expects to graduate 74 pilots this year — with even more waitlisted for training. 

Beaton said demand for air travel is increasing, and many pilots who started flying in the '50s and '60s have now retired.

"We hear our industry calling for more assistance in developing career pilots," he said.

CEO Bill Beaton says demand is exceeding capacity at the Calgary Flying Club. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

Calgary Flying Club has 16 aircraft and 16 instructors, some of whom have been offered retention bonuses to keep them from being tempted to leave the school for a commercial gig. 

The shortage also has new pilots jumping more quickly behind the yoke of larger aircraft.

Usually, Beaton said, a graduate would start with a smaller air operator — often in northern Alberta — to build up the 4,000-5,000 hours of flight time required to get an interview with a bigger airline.

"Today, we're seeing graduates from this school going right to the seat of a Q400 for the senior airlines," he said, referring to the 37- to 90-seat Bombardier planes.

Calgary Flying Club has 16 instructors and operates out of Springbank Airport. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

Sarah Plouffe got her private licence last September, and began training for her commercial licence in January.

"My mom's in aviation, she's a flight attendant, so this was her suggestion," the 30-year-old said. 

She plans on teaching for a bit once she graduates to get the required hours before she applies to work with an airline.

Plouffe said she loves the experience of flying, and the aviation community, but the prospect of graduating into an in-demand industry was also a draw.

"There's just huge demand," she said, describing the career as "hard work, but totally worth it."

Sarah Plouffe is training with the Calgary Flying Club for her commercial licence. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

Jeff Murphy, 32, is a classmate of Plouffe's. He said he's dreamed about being a pilot since he was a kid.

"It's just complete freedom. Ever since I was a little boy I loved engines, loved planes, loved adventure," he said.

Murphy works full-time in another industry, but is pursuing the licence as a potential career change. 

He said demand for pilots is "not going away anytime soon."

Typically, it costs between $60,000 to $80,000 and takes about 18 months for a pilot with a private licence to work in the industry.

"It's the cost … to get into a business that's a deep passion for those that choose it as a career path," Beaton said.

The Air Transport Association of Canada says schools nationwide train about 1,200 commercial pilots a year, but that still falls about 400 pilots short of demand across the country. 

Beaton said the club may look at adding more instructors or another location.

With files from Dave Gilson


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