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