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A more personal flying experience

Discovery Air Aviation Academy keeps hands-on flying experience alive

As the demand for experienced pilots grows, one flight school is making sure potential pilots get to experience flying as a hands-on experience and sharing it with a wider market.

Discovery Aviation Academy, a MAG Aerospace Canada Company, has been teaching people to fly at the Greater Sudbury Airport, whether it's for recreation or a career, since 2011.

“If people want to learn to fly, say, a float plane, to get them to and from camp, or get a commercial pilot licence, we can do that,” said Matt Neumann, chief flight instructor and training coordinator. “We offer everything from recreational, where people fly alone, or take one passenger, to commercial, or even train instructors.”

They also offer all the different types of ratings and licences Transport Canada allows. Because they are a licensing facility, the Ministry of Training Colleges and Universities oversees them. Neumann explained any business that offers training for a licence requires certification from the ministry.

They can have students from anywhere in the world come and train with them for licensing.

Most people seeking a commercial licence have working for an airline in mind. In the race to get there, he said they miss a lot of the fun and excitement, like spotting fires and learning to hand-fly an aircraft. With today's commercial airliners relying more on autopilot, he said it can be a boring job sitting in a cockpit while the plane practically flies itself for most of the journey.

“Fifteen years ago, you needed a lot of hours before you could work for an airline. Now, with baby boomers retiring, getting to an airline is easier,” he said. “They lose that diverse type of work, which is unfortunate. You miss the flying. It's a very skilled, in a different way. You are dealing with elements like the wind, and having to fly the plane until you get to the hangar.”

The academy started when the parent company, Discovery Air Fire Services, would operate during the summer forest fire season, and store the planes during the winter. Sudbury was a year-round base for fire season, with satellites in Kenora and Dryden, with seasonal bases in Chapleau and Geraldton.

The ministry saw an opportunity to expand and buy a few smaller airplanes to do training. It allowed the company to have full-time staff to help train and improve the fire program, as well as assist in related projects.

It was decided to open a year-round training centre for the company's fire division.

It is still known as a training facility for “bird dogging,” helping the Ministry of Natural Resources and fire departments spot fires and coo-ordinate water bombers. When a fire is spotted, they either send out a helicopter, or do an air attack, which involves a “bird dog” plane, that goes out with the bomber and act as air traffic control to coordinate water drops and fire control.

Neumann said had been getting harder to find qualified pilots across the industry. There is a global pilot shortage, he said, and the academy is helping to lessen the impact locally.

It's a really good internal hiring process,” he said. “They come here to train for a year or two, then go work on the fires, then hire and move within the company.”

There are marked differences between recreational and private licences. A recreational, he said, can only fly during the day, in Canada, and carry only one passenger. A private licence can fly into the U.S., at night, and add ratings and work towards a commercial licence. He added recreational licences can be upgraded to commercial, using the logged hours and training to go towards their schooling.

At their school, students get training in their classroom, as well as extra time in a simulator, which is a pilot seat with three flat screen TV monitors to create the feeling of being in a cockpit. Neumann explained the simulator right now is only for extra practice, it needs to be certified before hours in it can be added to certification.

All students train in the school's Cessna 172 planes, which he said is the most common type found in flight schools.

The company recently joined MAG Aerospace Canada as part of a merger deal with parent company Discovery Air Fire Services.

The deal will mean business as usual, but opens up more opportunities.

“Anyone going through the school, nothing changed, accept a little of the branding,” he said. “The core value of the school is the same.”

He said people are surprised to find out there is a licensed flight school in the city, even after all the years they have been in operation. It's a school where people can learn anything from how to fly for fun, to the beginning of a new career in aviation.

The academy always had opportunities to allow students to hire on and work their way through the company, but with the merger, they can give students international opportunities. MAG Aerospace operates in around 26 countries, giving potential pilots the chance to take their career overseas.

MAG Aerospace Canada has a two-fold contract with the Ministry of Natural Resources. They send detection planes all over Ontario, as well as Saskatchewan that go on pathways the ministry thinks there could be high likelihood for fires, either from lightning or human causes.

Students at the academy can observe these operations, Neumann said. If they are working on a career in spotting fires, they can be in the right seat of the plane and look for fires and eventually work towards a career.

“It's a neat way to be the industry as well as do training,” he said. “It allows for a lot of opportunities for the school and students.”