Great Circle Airways gearing up for new group of student pilots

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The latest venture by Swift Current's Great Circle Airways is helping new pilots get their wings, with a permanent flying school already graduating five students into certified pilots.

Great Circle Airways President Mike Campbell introduced a flight school to his operations this past fall and the opportunity was primarily a success despite the weather not cooperating over much of the winter. Their initial Flight School filled spots almost right away, and they have graduated five of this initial group of pilots so far. There are now a series of new people in the process of getting their pilots license which would qualify them to fly a single engine light airplane.

"It has been going good. It's a fit with the sightseeing flights that we do and the rest of what we're trying to bring to Swift Current," Campbell explained.

"We're coming into summer season when we could potentially handle another 20 students probably, and potentially get them through by fall."

Great Circle Airways is hosting a Grand Opening Open House this Saturday to showcase their range of offerings. The public can sign up for sight seeing flights for $39, they will be offering introductory flying lessons for $99, and they will host a BBQ with the proceeds going to the local Air Cadets. Flights begin at 9 a.m. and they will be flying until the last of their bookings ends.

In order to operate the Flight School, Great Circle Airways hired flight instructor Jim Young to conduct the one-on-one training flights. Young boasts over two decades of instructing experience, relocating from British Columbia to work in Swift Current.

"He brings a lot to the company. He's been flying for over 20 years and he's got over 14,000 hours of flying, and most of that is flight instruction."

Young not only helps new pilots attain their private and commercial pilots licenses, he also conducts ground school classes, and completes night ratings as part of licensing process.

"It's pleasurable, definitely. If a person didn't like it they wouldn't be here in the first place," Young admitted before a flying lesson. "It's fun getting to see the country from the air and meeting different people."

He finds that most new pilots catch on somewhat quickly to the skill of flying. But to be fully comfortable in the air, he estimates it takes a new pilot between 20 to 25 hours of flying time. He said that he enjoys the individual tailoring of instructing and teaching methods for people of different ages and different abilities.

"Most people can catch on to it, but it varies with age and ability and frequency of training and how often you come out. And the weather too is a big factor in the whole business."

While it can vary tremendously, both estimate it generally takes three to six months to obtain a pilots license.

New pilots also have to participate in Ground School, which runs periodically when six to 10 people are available. Ground School focusses on the data contained in the standard flight school reference book From The Ground Up, which teaches aviation theory.

Campbell wanted to clear of a misconception regarding flight school and flight instruction, pointing out that you do not have to finish ground school before taking to the air as a student pilot.

"It's best if you have a bit of the flight training in before you do the ground school, so there's no need to wait until you're done ground school to start flying," he said.

Transport Canada requires that student pilots have completed 40 hours of ground school instruction along with a minimum of 45 hours of private flight training. Campbell points out that people rarely finish in that amount of time and ultimately depends entirely on how much time can be committed to training. Totals of 50 to 65 hours are not uncommon, but also not uncommon for more hours if training is spread out over longer periods of time.

Campbell points out this is a benefit of taking flying lessons from a flight school right in Swift Current, opposed to the nearest neighbouring flight schools which are a minimum of two hours away. There have also been satellite schools operated in Swift Current, but those leave at the end of their time commitment regardless of whether you have completed the program or not.

The benefit of taking flight school training in Swift Current is that instruction can be worked around seeding or harvest time.

Campbell adds that the flight school is having a positive impact at the Swift Current Airport. Three of the five pilots they have graduated have bought airplanes, and there is a group of individuals helping build new hangars to accommodate the growing number of local airplanes.

Campbell and Great Circle Airways have an ambitious future, with the company promoting their flight school in addition to preparing for a venture into crop spraying and finalizing the purchase of a spray plane.

"There's all kinds of things on the horizon," Campbell admitted.

Organizations: Great Circle Airways, Swift Current Airport

Geographic location: Swift Current

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