The Terry Harrold School of Aviation is starting its first two-year intensive program in January in Fort Smith, and its operators hope this will lead to a new generation of Northern pilots.
It’s also still accepting applications.
Fort Smith-based Northwestern Air Lease Ltd. is behind the new school, and chief operating officer Jim Heidema said the company is hoping having Northerners become pilots will stem staff turnover for them and fill some badly-needed positions.
“We’re facing a severe shortage (of pilots) within the industry throughout the world, and that is growing exponentially,” said Heidema. “They expect that in the next 15 years we’ll be about 640,000 pilots short, and, of that, 90,000-plus in North America, regardless of what the schools can produce today.”
Heidema said a lot of pilots come north with their commercial licences and build their hours to join bigger airlines out of the bigger cities. He hopes this program might attract people already invested in the North, who want to live here, and that it might help build a more diverse pilot workforce that has more Indigenous and more female pilots.
After five semesters and 200 hours of flight time, participants of the two-year Aviation Management Diploma program come out with a commercial pilot’s licence, as well as other skills that will be useful in the industry.
“If you’re a person out there looking for a career, I’d give this some serious thought because it’s one of the ones that is going to grow like crazy,” said Heidema. “There’s just going to be so many options for people who have this career.”
After graduating, Heidema guarantees new crops of pilots will undoubtedly find jobs – if not with Northwestern Air Lease, which they’d obviously prefer, then with the other airlines in the NWT.
First officers, coming out of school, can make between $60,000 and $100,000. After about three years, most pilots have enough hours and experience, Heidema said, to become a captain. Captains, he said, easily break six figures and can reach $125,000 or beyond with more experience.
The school’s namesake, Harrold, is the owner of Northwestern Air Lease, and still flies regularly at 86-years-old.
“In the majority of cases up here, you’re home every night, so you don’t face that separation when you’re doing two-on, two-off at a mine,” said Heidema.
“You’re paid very well, in our company. You’re home every night.
“Most weekends you don’t work. It’s a white-collar profession.”
NWT Student Financial Assistance recognizes the program and Harrold said those who are really interested but don’t think they can afford the program could reach out to the school, which has some funding partners who may be able to help.
The school can be reached by email, phone or on its Facebook page.
News/North reached out to Canadian North on the value of having a made-in-the-North pilot training program but didn’t hear back by press time.