New flight school? Northerners may soar to new heights in 2019

2 N.W.T. airlines and Aurora College say they're in talks to potentially start an aviation school in Fort Smith, N.W.T., by 2019.

2 N.W.T. airlines, Aurora College in talks over potential aviation school in Fort Smith

A North-Wright Airways plane soars through the sky. Susan Wright of North-Wright Air says that she wants to see more Northerners become pilots.

Two airlines in the Northwest Territories are trying a new approach to deal with the North's pilot shortage: teaching northerners to fly.

On May 9, Northwestern Air announced on its Facebook page that it's partnering with North-Wright Airways and Aurora College to create an aviation school in Fort Smith by 2019.

Aurora College said it's in talks but nothing is concrete. 

Northern airlines aren't alone in trying to recruit and retain talent.

The struggle is real.- Susan Wright, North-Wright Airways

Over the years, an increase in air passengers, more regulations for pilots and the steep costs of getting an aviation licence have contributed to a dearth of pilots.

Northern youth need encouragement

Susan Wright, who handles safety and human resources with North-Wright Airways, said graduates who came up from the South after aviation school used to stay in the North for three to five years before moving onto carriers like Air Canada or WestJet.

That's changed.

"At this point in time, you are lucky to get them for a year or two before they move onto the major airlines," said Wright.

"The struggle is real."

Wright believes that part of the problem is that northern youth aren't encouraged enough to consider careers in the sky.

"We want northern youth to be flying the skies," she said. "No one knows the land, the weather and the people like the youth that are from the North."

Wright said she's lived in the North her whole life, but she's known very few youth who've pursued a career in aviation.

We want northern youth to be flying the skies.- Susan Wright, North-Wright Airways

Wright said she knows there are a lot of barriers to get into the industry. Flight school is expensive and getting a commercial pilot's licence costs tens of thousands of dollars. But she also believes that for young people in the Northwest Territories, it can be "daunting" to move south for school and leave everything they know.

"It's kind of a risk," she said.

Trevor Wever, vice-president of Air Tindi, says a northern flight school "probably wouldn't solve the problem 100 per cent, but it would help."

He added that Fort Smith's airport is "ideal for training" thanks in part to its small size.

Wright encourages youth to contact her about the program with questions.


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