Fatal MRU plane crash near Calgary could have big impact on school, aviation expert says

The head of an airline industry group says the crash near Calgary that killed two Mount Royal University flight instructors could hurt the program’s reputation, depending on the outcome of the investigation.

Effect on program's reputation will hinge on results of TSB investigation

Mount Royal University aviation instructors Jeffrey Bird, left, and Reynold Johnson, were killed in a plane crash near Waiparous on Monday. (Facebook/Mount Royal University)

The head of an airline industry group says the crash near Calgary that killed two Mount Royal University flight instructors could hurt the program's reputation, depending on the outcome of the investigation.

Jeffrey Bird and Reynold Johnson were killed when their twin-engine Tecnam went down in the Waiparous area, roughly 100 kilometres northwest of Calgary, just before 6 p.m. Monday.

John McKenna, president of the Air Transport Association of Canada (ATAC) — a lobby group for both commercial airlines and flight schools — says such catastrophic crashes are rare. So, in a highly safety-conscious industry, morale will take a hit, he says.

"The investigation will take up to a year. Will it come up to pilot error, will it come up to bad maintenance of the plane? It can't help the school, that's for sure," he said.

"Will the school necessarily suffer irreparable damage because of this? Probably not, but it will be very, very difficult on the school for a good while."

Part of the wreckage of the twin-engine Tecnam, owned by Mount Royal University, which crashed northwest of Calgary, killing the two flight instructors on board. (CBC)

Bird was formerly a pilot instructor with the Royal Canadian Air Force, stationed in Moose Jaw, Sask., who also served as a helicopter pilot in Afghanistan with the Edmonton-based 408 Squadron.

Johnson, known to friends and family as Reyn, joined MRU last September after logging over 20,000 flight hours in 15 different types of airplanes in his career as an airline pilot and flight instructor.

'As a pilot, he took pride in detail'

A statement was issued Wednesday on behalf of his wife, Brenda, and their two children, Maryse and Lucas.

"When you think about Reyn, two things come to mind — he was loving and caring and he was also meticulous and professional," it read.

"He was thorough and prepared in his approach to both life and work. No task was too small to deserve his care and attention. As a pilot, he took pride in detail, even insisting on ironing his own shirts, not just to look professional, but because he thought that a job worth doing was worth doing right.

Along with flying, his family says Johnson was an avid golfer and skier and enjoyed doing carpentry.

"He loved to learn and to encourage that in others – his friends, family and students," read the statement.

"Although he was a private person, he was also very open, and he valued time with those he cared about. Reyn's family meant the world to him. He was a proud and devoted grandpa to Isaac, Abigail and baby Jacob. The last photo taken of Reyn is of him lovingly holding his newest grandchild, born just three days before Reyn's passing."

The pair were on a "routine flight" flying in a training area used by the school, said Peter Davison, director of the MRU Emergency Operations Centre.

"They're always enhancing their skills as well," he said.

Crash witnessed by crew of another plane

Transportation Safety Board investigators will move the wreckage to a facility in Edmonton on Wednesday for further analysis.

The crash was witnessed by the crew of another plane flying in the area, however Davison wouldn't say who that was. 

Maintance of the MRU fleet of planes is handled externally, said Davison, adding the university will also conduct its own internal review once the TSB probe is complete. 

This wasn't the first fatal crash involving the MRU aviation program

"According to an archived record, Al Milne was involved in a plane crash in 1973," said Davison.

There are 66 students currently enrolled in the program.