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Fanshawe's new aviation program soars despite pandemic

Fanshawe College's Commercial Flight and Aviation Leadership program launches today and is the first new aviation program in the province in almost 40 years.

It is the first new aviation program in Ontario in almost 40 years

Larry Weir is the associate dean of Fanshawe College's Norton Wolf School of Aviation Technology, which launches a brand new pilot training program today. (Supplied by Larry Weir)

Fanshawe College's Commercial Flight and Aviation Leadership program launches today and is the first new pilot program in the province in almost 40 years. 

The first crop of students start today at the Norton Wolf School of Aviation Technology. 

"The timing seemed right when we launched the program a year ago. The aviation industry was growing and there was a looming pilot shortage," said Larry Weir, the associate dean at the aviation school. 

That, of course, was before the pandemic hit, but Transport Canada has given the new aviation program the go-ahead to hold classes virtually, something it doesn't usually allow, Weir said. 

"Transport Canada usually wants all of your classes in a face-to-face format, to sit in a classroom, then go to the airplane. With COVID that became a great unknown," he said. 

"Traditionally, students wouldn't start flying until next spring. They'd do a year of ground school first. What separates us is that our program starts today, and tomorrow the students are flying." 

Social distancing isn't possible in airplanes, so students will be seated next to a pilot, with masks and gloves on, and the aircraft will be cleaned before and after. 

Students fly out of the London International Airport. The program has a partnership with London's Diamond Aircraft. 

Although many commercial airplanes are now grounded and pilots laid off, Weir said he thinks the industry will recover. 

"We're confident that this period of COVID has put pressures on the industry, but it will come back. We've seen that happen post 9/11, post the recession of 2008. There will be ample time for these students to learn over the next three years, and we're optimistic that we'll be going strong in three years time."

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