For 80 YEARS – Ahead of the Curve
Few things endure in this world. So the fact that New Brunswick’s
Moncton Flight College is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year is
an event worth applauding.
September 29, 2009 By James Careless
Few things endure in this world. So the fact that New Brunswick’s Moncton Flight College is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year is an event worth applauding. What makes this birthday a real achievement is that this world-renowned flight school has 480 students enrolled at its two campuses (Moncton and Fredericton), and that the vast majority of them are from outside Canada.
|Moncton Flight College is a world-recognized institution.
“We have about 300 students enrolled from China alone,” says Mike Doiron, the college’s principal and CEO and an accomplished pilot/flight instructor in his own right. “All told, there isn’t a continent for which we haven’t trained pilots – except Antarctica!”
The Moncton Flight College began as the Moncton Flying Club (MFC). It was formed on July 1, 1929, the same day of the city’s first Air Pageant; the pageant was a fundraiser for the new Moncton Airport, which was under construction at the time.
Like everything else, the MFC was stalled by the Great Depression which is why it wasn’t incorporated until 1939, at which point the Second World War broke out.
Not surprisingly, the MFC’s flying expertise was tapped by the Canadian government: It was put in charge of the “Elementary Flying Training School, Royal Canadian Air Force” (#21 E.F.T.S., R.C.A.F.) that had been opened in Chatham, N. B.
To train its pilots, the MFC used Canadian-built Fleet Finch Model 16 biplanes. These were fabric-covered two-seaters more suited to the First World War than the Second World War. (A restored Fleet Finch is owned by the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in Hamilton, Ont.) Nevertheless, the MFC was so effective at training with these aircraft that by war’s end the club was running three E.F.T.S. schools in various locations.
|The Moncton Flight College began as the Moncton Flying Club and was formed on July 1, 1929.
The 1950s were good times for the Moncton Flying Club. Its fleet included four or five Tiger Moths, two Fairchild Cornells, three Aeroncas, and a Cessna T50. Membership grew, and a canteen and dormitory was built for students. The school started providing night flying training, despite its lack of radar. There was even an airshow mounted on several occasions, using Harvards and Sea Furies.
The good times continued into the 1960s. In 1961, the MFC was recognized as the country’s top flying club, an achievement for which it was given the Yorath Trophy. A year later, the MFC started running Atlantic Central Airlines, which had a twin Apache and an amphibious Cessna 180. This allowed the MFC to offer twin-engine training, and bolstered its single-engine charter service. But bad times occurred as well: on June 12, 1965, the MFC’s hangar was destroyed by fire. Thanks to the determination of the MFC’s members, a replacement hangar and new dormitory were ready within 15 months.
As the years past, the MFC’s reputation for training students grew. By the 1970s, students were coming from Europe and Asia for training. But many came from Canada as well, including Mike Doiron, the current principal and CEO. Yet despite this success, limits were starting to be recognized. To realize the potential for future growth, the MFC would have to upgrade itself from a flying school to a fully accredited flying college. So, in the early 1990s, the MFC’s board decided to take this step.
It was a hard leap. New facilities were needed, namely the university-style classrooms, cafeterias and residences that are now in use in Moncton and Fredericton. (In Fredericton, the school’s facilities and training are run by CANLink Aviation, in partnership with the college.) “We also upgraded our level of instruction, by providing our staff with enhanced training,” says Doiron. “We needed to ensure that everything we were offering was at a world-class level.”
The College’s Approach
The students who attend the Moncton Flight College by and large come here due to word-of-mouth advertising. “Pilots all over the world tell people to come here,” says Doiron. “We also get a lot of sons and daughters of pilots.”
In training all of them, Doiron’s goal is to create professionals who are capable of advancing in the aviation industry. “We want to produce pilots who are self-disciplined, self-motivated and team players, because that’s what the industry needs,” he says. “This is why our students are dressed in pilots’ uniforms during class, and why we schedule our classes and flight training to reflect the working environment of airlines.”
For the 13 months students are at the college, their days are busy: Monday to Friday is full-time training, with Saturday reserved for making up missed assignments and classes. They get a break on Sunday, but that’s it: This is not the laid-back lifestyle enjoyed by mainstream university students. In fact, “the college operates 24/7 seven days a week,” says Doiron. “We are only closed Christmas day and New Year’s morning ‘til noon.”
|The college also tries to make its international students feel as comfortable as it can in residence, says Mike Doiron (above with students).
To train the students, the Moncton Flight College has a number of modern multimedia classrooms, King Air 200 and ATC 810 flight simulators and 51 aircraft. (That’s larger than many countries’ air forces!) The two-seater Diamond DA20-C1 Eclipse trainer is the most common aircraft at the school, with 17 in Moncton and 18 in Fredericton. Also in the fleet are Cessna 172s, six Piper Seminoles, two twin-engine King Air C90s and a Decathalon 8KCAB aerobatics trainer.
“Our aircraft fly a tremendous amount of hours – typically 3,700 a month – which is why we have a dedicated 30-person maintenance crew,” says Doiron. “They work nonstop to keep our aircraft properly maintained and ready to fly. We couldn’t function without them; they are the unseen but essential element of our operation.”
The International Challenge
Training students from around the world requires a firm grasp of cultural realities. “Students are taught in different ways around the world,” says Doiron. “Some cultures encourage students to ask questions; others put a premium on staying quiet in the classroom, no matter what. As a result, our instructors have been trained to know how to cope with these differences, and to get everyone taking part in class and the cockpit. After all, a solo is the last time to discover that your student had questions that they were too shy to ask during flight training!”
The college also tries to make its international students feel as comfortable as it can in residence. “We are helped by the fact, with our large Asian student base, that our cafeterias are run by a local Chinese family,” Doiron says. “They prepare Asian food that helps our students feel at home.”
Eighty years is a milestone for the Moncton Flight College. But Doiron feels no trepidation about the next 80, simply because enrolment is so strong.
“So far the recession has not affected us,” he says. “This is because there is such a demand for pilots in Asia bolstered by the long-term training contracts we have with China. As a result, our schools are full; a fact that helps not just us but the local economies of Moncton and Fredericton.”
As for the future? Mike Doiron is determined to keep the college ahead of the curve, by ensuring that its training methods, equipment and aircraft remain cutting-edge. “The work done by my predecessors to bring the college this far are never far from my thoughts,” he says. “They worked hard to establish the MFC and the college, and to bring us where we are today. I have no intention of losing their momentum. Today, the Moncton Flight College is a world-recognized institution, and I intend to keep it that way. Besides, it is satisfying to know that so much of the world’s aircraft are being flown and managed by our graduates!”