Mountain City’s training area runs from Altona to Manitou and from Roland down to the US border. We have over 600 square miles to do our training in! Of course, schools like MFC (Moncton Flight College) have at least a dozen training areas and probably four times as much room to practice in, but they also have close to 25 aircraft in those areas. At times, I spent more time avoiding other aircraft and staying within our closely defined little practice area than focusing on my student. Commuting out through the control zone and into the practice area could take the student 10 minutes each way. Coupled with the time spent avoiding midair collisions we really had very little training time remaining. It was a wonder it didn’t take 100 hours to get a licence. MCA’s training area on the other hand encompasses the airport and starts once we reach altitude the lesson dictates. We have saved the students some serious time training them here at the Morden Airport.
After our first born and bred commercial students left the MCA nest, we asked for their feedback and although there was some glowing praise, there was also some negative feedback. “I didn’t get enough controlled airspace practice.” “I never flew much in high volume traffic areas.” “The instructor trained me too well.” The first two I gave serious consideration to, and as a result, added a lot more controlled airspace training for the post-PPL student. Since the first cadre of CPL students, I haven’t really heard that comment too much since we started getting them to do hours of circuits at CYWG. As for the last comment…well it’s the age old battle of saving money versus saving your life or the lives of loved ones. Pretty simple to me.
MCA has grown a lot since I first got here. I came here as an inexperienced class 3 instructor and now I am on the cusp of being a class 1 instructor. We added a second aircraft to our fleet and are looking forward to getting a tail-dragger and twin-engine aircraft.
I am very thankful for the opportunities and challenges given to me here at Morden Airport. I love seeing our efforts come to fruition. If Transport Canada employees send their kids on a 2 hour commute to do training here, as opposed to Winnipeg, we must be doing something right in their eyes. Seeing my students take flight sharing the adventure with family and friends is awesome. Hearing from former CPL students that have landed their first job is awe-inspiring, even when they make 4 times as much money as me. The first solo grin. The successful flight test glow. All these things make Morden Airport and MCA special. God bless and safe flying.
-Lance Appleford, CFI
Reopening Mountain City Aviation turned out to be a lot more involved than I thought it would be. Here I was a Class 3 instructor with 900 hours and 12 flight test recommendations under my belt starting up a flight school. With the help and guidance of Jim and a few months later Dave Friesen, we gradually got through the Transport Canada morass of paperwork and hoop jumping.
The first thought that eventually bloomed in my mind was the fact that I didn’t have any senior instructor guidance. I was on my own. Moncton Flight College however had given me a valuable experience regarding flight training and operations, so I just took what I had learned from them and applied it to Mountain City. The amazing thing was that, as the sole instructor, I could have a school based on MFC’s brilliant educational foundation but without all of the bureaucratic nonsense and huge sheaf of stressful policies emerging on a daily basis. I was in heaven.
So began the great experiment of fusing MFC’s training syllabus at an uncontrolled airport. I can say today that it has been very successful, as we have had about 50 flight tests conducted here with a success rate in the mid 90th percentile.
An important factor in my happiness as an instructor and the amazing success my students have had is that fact that Morden Airport is uncontrolled. No ATC means less stress. The students can make mistakes and not get reamed out about it. I can focus my attention on the student more and have the flexibility to do what I want when I want. I’ll give you circuits as an example. As I had previously mentioned, at Moncton airport it was often the case that I would get 3 circuits completed in an hour. Sometimes Moncton ATC limited the number of aircraft in the circuit to only 3 which meant that your flight could get cancelled due to the tower’s unwillingness to fit more. At Morden, my students can do about 10 take offs and landings in an hour of airtime. At MFC, we were not allowed to teach real soft field landings on a grass runway unless the CFI took the instructor up for a check ride. Furthermore, students or pilot renters were never allowed to land on grass strips. When I got here that policy was scrapped in a heartbeat. When 90% of Canadian aerodromes have grass runways, it only makes sense to make students comfortable using them. In fact, I’ve sent students on their very first solo using our grass runway.
Weather always plays a huge hand in our operations as a flight school. We have had months of bad weather where a student has had to rebook their flight test 7 times before the weather was good enough for the examiner to come out. There are obvious safety reasons for not going up in marginal conditions but if we waited for a perfect weather day, they would be few and far between and we’d go bankrupt in a New York minute. Probably the most salient reason we fly in marginal conditions is that the pilots we produce here are either going to be flying in those conditions or will at some point find themselves in those conditions and we want them to be as competent and as safe as possible. Flying in 3 miles visibility, landing with 25 knot gusts, doing circuits at 500 feet should be experienced by the student and trained for. Too many schools have weather SOPs that safeguard the student and make them fearful of adverse conditions but don’t prepare them for the weather reality. Maybe I am out of line here. I just know that the students that graduate from MCA are taught to respect the weather but have the training to get themselves out of a bind if they find themselves in it.
-Lance Appleford, CFI