Instructing at Morden Regional: Part II

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 

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Instructing at Morden Regional: Part I

Hi. My name is Lance Appleford and I am the Chief Flight Instructor of Mountain City Aviation. It sounds like a grand title but really it’s just me and my other instructor Mike working here at the Morden Regional Airport. As far as flight schools go, we are as small as they get, but don’t let that fool you. There are a lot of great things happening here.

I’d like to talk about the two airports I have instructed at beginning with the one where I started my career. Before coming to Manitoba, I started my first flying gig at the Moncton International Airport instructing for the illustrious Moncton Flight College. At the time they had about 50 instructors and 30 aircraft and 100’s of students from all over the world, but mostly from China. I learned a lot there as a noobie instructor but eventually found that working for a big school in the Maritimes not to my liking.

All of my students were Chinese and they were the best of the best that Beijing could send us. High IQs aside, their lack of English posed a big problem for me as a fresh instructor. In fact it created a huge amount of stress for everyone.

I remember one day in particular.

I had been trying to get my student ready for his first solo and needed to do another full hour of take offs and landings. The weather had finally become nice after weeks of snow, wind and extremely low temperatures. I was excited because today was the day I could finally get flying and hopefully recommend this guy for his first solo. We lined up for take off,got our clearance and quickly climbed up to get established on the downwind. As soon as we had levelled off, paralleling the runway on the downwind, we made our call to the tower. The tower responded with, “Foxtrot, Foxtrot, India you are number 7, extend your downwind, we will call your base leg.” Number 7? We had 6 aircraft wanting to land before us, and more coming in from the training area. We eventually turned our base and the student asked me, “Uhh Lance, where is the runway?” Needless to say, we got only 3 take offs and landings done in that hour. Once on the ground, I had to beg the director of the China department for more flight hours because my student wasn’t safely ready for his first solo and we had already used up all his allotted flight time for circuit training.

The Chinese students were given 60 hours to complete their training and if it was projected that they would go over their allotted flight time then we as instructors would have to explain why they needed extra training. Every time a student would make a mistake, the school would create a new operations policy amendment that we as instructors would have to sign to show that we had read it and would go over it with our students.

Completing a student’s training within the 60 hours, given their language ability, traffic congestion, and very conservative weather minima created a very stressful situation for everyone involved andkind of took the joy out of flying, especially with Moncton ATC who was unable to cope with the language barrier and the huge volume of students.

I am extremely glad I moved to Manitoba and very grateful for the opportunity Jim Peters gave me when he agreed to reopen Mountain City Aviation in May, 2009.  Next week I’ll share with you my experiences teaching students from the Morden area.

-Lance Appleford, CFI

Winter Flying

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One of our Cessna 172s in Devils Lake, ND on a December morning flight.

Some of the best flying can be done in the winter months.  This time of year offers many clear days, smooth, stable air, and low density altitude for great engine performance.

However, there are a few special considerations that go along with cold weather operations.  Though it may be tempting, don’t rush the pre-flight.  Carefully check the pitot tube, fuel vent, stall warning, and all other openings and intakes to make sure they’re clear of snow and ice.  All flying surfaces must also be completely clear of any frost, ice, and snow accumulation, and you may need to take time to pre-heat the engine.

Check your POH for details on cold weather operation, and remember to take care when starting the engine without pre-heat.  Prior to starting on cold days, pull the prop through several times by hand to “limber” the oil (and make sure the mags are off when you do that!).  Oil has a higher viscosity in the cold and it is more difficult for the engine to turn over, therefore starting can drain the battery more quickly and cause more wear and tear.

We recommend you check out this great article for a detailed description of everything you need to be aware of when planning for winter flying: http://www.oregon.gov/aviation/docs/tips_on_winter_flying.pdf.

Many recreational pilots simply choose not to fly during the winter, but if you bundle up and take a little extra care getting your airplane ready, you will be rewarded with some of the smoothest flying you’ve ever done.

Your pilot career awaits: Industry tips

I’m sure many of you saw the article we posted on our Facebook page a few weeks ago about the current pilot shortage.  We like to share those kinds of articles with you as encouragement that your ambitions for aviation can take you somewhere if you work at it.  North America and the world are indeed facing a shortage of pilots.  Estimates differ, but some figure that US airlines, which together employ around 96,000 pilots, will need to find more than 65,000 pilots over the next eight years (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203937004578079391643223634.html?mod=dist_smartbrief).  To get a broader scope of the demand, Boeing estimates that as many as 460,000 new pilots will be needed worldwide in the next twenty years (http://www.thestar.com/business/article/1122321–pilots-boeing-sheridan).  

The main reasons for this?  The aging workforce demographic means that many senior pilots have hit, or are close to hitting, retirement age and demand for air travel is only increasing around the globe.

The less cited chapter of this story is that the industry also seems to do its best to discourage prospective career pilots.  High costs of training, high qualification minimums for job entry, low initial wages, and lack of job security means it can be a tough go for incoming pilots.

Don’t be discouraged.  If you love aviation, a good career awaits if you’re willing to work for it.  Though you will start off small, when considered over the course of an entire career, pilots still have more earning potential than many other professionals.  And you’ll have an office view that can’t be beat.

With a pilot career in mind, here are a few tips on how to get going in this industry:

1.) Immediately get yourself a non-flying job at an aviation company – handling cargo and various other “ramp rat” tasks, dispatch, flight operations, customer service, etc.  This way you will have put in your required year or two on the ground so that once you have completed all your flight training you’ll be put on the flight line that much sooner.

2.) Get a degree.  Aviation is increasingly becoming the domain of higher education.  It doesn’t need to be the oft-touted aviation degree; any one will do (although a business degree might be especially useful).  Employers want to know that you are bright, hard working, and have developed your communication and critical thinking skills.  More and more, pilot applicants with degrees are getting put on the top of the resume pile. 

3.) Do your research.  Spend time on the www.avcanada.ca forums and get familiar with job requirements, companies, and industry expectations. 

4.) Be ready to move.  This is a national industry; setting strict geographical constraints early on will severely limit your employability.  When searching for that first job, consider putting some of your CPL flight hours toward a x-country flight to visit prospective employers.  Another option is to make a road trip out of it.  Rather than just emailing resumes, go drop them off in person, shake hands, meet people, and demonstrate that you’re eager and ready to work.  

5.) Network.  This is one of the smallest and best-connected industries out there.  Your reputation will always precede you, so be mindful of that as you work through your flight training and meet people in the industry.  Network – put yourself out there and look for opportunities to meet fellow pilots and others already working in aviation.  Not only will they probably be full of great career advice for you, but it may lead to a “heads up” connection for job postings.  More often than you may realize, jobs are not advertised externally – pilots are often hired internally or through connections. recommendations, and word of mouth.  

Though the industry can be tough on newcomers, there is an increasing amount of opportunity for pilots.  If you love flying, embrace the challenge and go for it.  The reward?  You get paid to fly. 

Comments or questions?  Other advice on getting that first flying job?  Post a reply and let’s get this discussion going!