Rick Hansen Secondary students take wing: Aviation program offers career boost

Grade 12 aviation students from Rick Hansen Secondary stepped into the cockpit for their final exam last week.

Rick Hansen Grade 12 aviation students Daymen Deol and Josh Cercel go over their flight plan with Coastal Pacific flight instructor Seiji Inouye. The pair were among 16 Grade 12 students in the aviation program who had the opportunity to try the flight simulator.

Rick Hansen Grade 12 aviation students Daymen Deol and Josh Cercel go over their flight plan with Coastal Pacific flight instructor Seiji Inouye. The pair were among 16 Grade 12 students in the aviation program who had the opportunity to try the flight simulator.

Grade 12 aviation students from Rick Hansen Secondary stepped into the cockpit for their final exam last week.

The hand-on experience offered the aspiring pilots an opportunity to start logging hours in a flight simulator. Sitting in a small, windowless room at the back of the Coastal Pacific Aviation airport hanger in Abbotsford, digital screens and navigational equipment offer realistic mechanical and weather conditions.

“This is the very first time they actually get to sit and experience what it feels like to fly a plane, while still in high school,” said program instructor Ian Newton, a former Canadian Forces pilot. “It’s a real benefit.”

During the course, students learned how to read weather maps, interpret weather patterns and adjust that for navigation, as well as how weight, balance and fuel consumption are linked when creating flight plans.

The simulators tested each of their routes to Nanaimo and helped them learn from errors.

“It’s a lot of fun and you learn a lot,” said 17-year-old Eric Olson, who now wants to pursue a career in military or commercial aviation.

“The course is a good thing to take just to get your feet wet.”

The innovative program at Rick Hansen is the first of its kind in B.C.

Students who complete the ground school course will be able to obtain their private pilot’s license after completing 50 hours of flight training with Coastal Pacific.

The program also exposes students to a wide range of aerospace careers including air traffic control, airport management, and search and rescue.

“To be able to have this information, have this type of education for students while still in high school gives them such a huge career opportunity and career lift later on,” said Newton. “There are thousands of commercial airline pilots retiring in the next five years. It’s a brilliant opportunity right now.”

Of the 16 students who entered the program in September, 12 graduates plan to move on to their private pilot’s license training at Coastal Pacific Aviation.

The Abbotsford School District plans to eventually develop a full aviation academy at Rick Hansen.

The program will add aviation maintenance and servicing, and basic aerospace design and construction to the course curriculum.