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MRU program continues to change following accident

Two months ago, Mount Royal University experienced its deadliest plane crash in the aviation program’s history, but since then, the program has changed.


May 1, 2017
By Global News


The school voluntarily grounded its remaining two Tecnam P2006T aircrafts following the crash but it may never use them again.

“We might not. We want to make sure that we the best resources for the school,” said Leon Cygman, chair of Mount Royal University’s (MRU) Aviation program.

Jeff Bird and Reyn Johnson were killed when the twin-engine Tecnam they were flying went down about 30 minutes into an instructional flight northwest of Calgary on Feb. 13. They were both experienced pilots and both had been with the MRU program for less than six months.

MRU is in the process of test flying other alternatives to the Tecnams, and is in the final stages of signing a lease agreement for a pair of twin-engine planes. Cygman said one important consideration for choosing a new aircraft is the near-mountain climate.

“We’re actively looking to find another twin to see what it would be like, and how it would fit in our program,” Cygman said.

The school also has five single-engine Cessna 172s in its fleet, and some students plan to fly throughout the summer to make up for lost time.

The program was put on hold for a couple of weeks following the Feb. 13 crash, before students gradually returned to the air.

“It’s a little bit tighter now. Some of us are getting less flights now because we have less planes available now, technically,” said 19-year-old Nick Blonski, a first-year aviation student.

Blonski took a Global News crew for a flight and explained what it was like the first time back in the air following the crash: “When I went up, I didn’t really feel anything different at all. I just started up the plane — did what I’ve been trained to do.”

MRU has also hired three new instructor pilots.

“We recently hired people who are newly minted instructors and two people with 10,000 hours experience,” Cygman said.

The Transportation Safety Board (TSB) continues to investigate the crash but said the absence of a cockpit voice recorder will make it challenging. The Tecnam involved was not required to carry a voice or data recorder, according to Canadian laws.

MRU is also doing its own internal review into the crash.

“There’s always stuff that you don’t anticipate or you don’t expect, and that’s how most of us feel about this incident,” Juan Aragon Franssen, an MRU instructor said. He’s been with the program for four years.

The crash hasn’t deterred students from getting back up in the air and hasn’t seemed to deter prospective pilots.

“Everyone has returned back to the air and if anything, they’re more determined to complete their program,” Cygman said.

Over the next 20 years, North America will need 112,000 new pilots, according to the Boeing long-term market outlook, and 617,000 new pilots will be needed worldwide.

“The regional airlines, namely Jazz and Westjet — there’s a huge demand for pilots in that area. The reason is the larger airlines, like Air Canada, are drawing from the small regions,” Cygman said.

The MRU aviation program has received more than 130 applications for enrolment in September, which is about 30 per cent more than last year.

“It’s the most I’ve seen since I’ve been with Mount Royal,” Cygman said. He’s been with the program since 2012.

“There’s such a high demand for pilots these days, that I feel like getting a job right now would be easier than it ever was before, in the history of aviation,” Blonski said. “Right now, there’s just endless opportunities out there.”

Aragon Franssen said when he became a pilot about 13 years ago, it was challenging to land a job.

“You were expected to either work on the ground or fuel airplanes or do other shores to prove or build your time. Nowadays, there’s a lot of direct entry for pilots,” he said.