Friday, February 26, 2010

General Aviation Woes

General aviation hassles. This time it's not security regulations, airspace restrictions, or exorbitant airport fees. It's just small town council that doesn't want to invest in public facilities. It's nothing that hasn't happened to small airports across Canada, and even one so large that it was a designated alternate landing strip for the NASA space shuttle, but this one includes a personal angle from a Cockpit Conversation reader.

Julian, whose story this is, passed the Transport Canada instructor ride in December and went out and applied everywhere, in person for the nearby schools and by e-mail for places further afield, like Kawartha Lakes Flight Center in Lindsay, Ontario. Julian describes the thrill of that first don't-know-what-to-expect aviation job interview.

A few weeks later, I got a reply and I had my first interview! I wasn't sure how to dress though because so many schools are so laid back in their attire, but I thought I'd dress to the nines anyway. When I got there I was way over dressed. The interview went well and we went for a little .5 flight. Then he said you got the job if you want it. I said, "There is only one thing: I have a volunteer job from the 12-28 at the Olympics in Vancouver."

They were really supportive and said something like, "This is a once in a lifetime opportunity!" And it really is. So they let me have the time off whenever I wanted to leave. Cool.

So in January, Julian moved to Lindsay, a farm town of 17,000 people an hour's drive north east of Toronto (assuming you're not trying to leave Toronto in rush hour traffic). The school itself has four two-seater Cessna 152s two four-seater Cessna 172s and a twin-engine Piper Seneca. The school owners were upfront about winters being slow with little flying. The first week he did a bunch of rental checkouts and logged six hours of flying. He was so delighted to be flying at all, that he kept up his spirits through a few days of unflyable weather and then as much flying as he could handle for the rest of that week.

The first fine weather weekend brought Julian his most amazing sight ever: little Lindsey was swarmed by more airplanes than he had ever seen fly into an uncontrolled airport. Even a C130 did a low and over. People would fly in and go to the restaurant or come and talk to them at the school. His students were keen and doing well, with one scheduled to solo the weekend before Julian left for the Olympics.

The school had an instructor meeting, about an approaching Transport Canada inspection. These are regular occurrences at aviation businesses of all kinds. Julian had questions which were discussed and answered. The owner came and told him that he had flown more than all the other instructors despite not having any students to start. The other four instructors have second jobs and instruct only part time, but Julian is putting everything he has into it, and it's paying off. As the only instructor there with an instrument rating he also has some multi-engine instrument flying to look forward to, a lucky coup for an instructor so early in his career. But every opportunity in aviation seems to have a stumbling block laid across its threshold. It's not just my stories that read this way.

Julian came into school early the morning after a snowfall to prepare for for an eight a.m. flight. As he looked out over the ramp to see how much deicing he would need to do, he noticed pink ribbons on the props of the Seneca. "Geeze TC is here already," he thought. He walked into the office and there learned that the City of Kawartha Lakes had put locks around all the propellers and were seizing the aircraft for unpaid bills.

You never know whose story to believe as a peon in this industry, but the school's story is that yes, they do owe for rent and fuel but not anywhere near the value of the property seized, that the city has gone about everything illegally, as they should have only seized something of equal value not seven aircraft and the school's only means of producing revenue. I can tell you that December and January are the worst revenue months for a flying school, and as this was the beginning of February with a quasistationary high was parked over the area, giving clear skies and perfect training conditions. Julian alone would have flown over twenty-five hours that week, bringing in revenue for the city, but the airplanes stayed parked.

The locks were supposed to come off Friday, but they didn't. They were supposed to come off Monday. But they didn't. As far as Julian knew while he was on the bus up Whistler mountain they were still on. The school is suing the city for damages. Word is that the city is trying to close the airport so they can put in a new subdivision across the street on the approach for runway 31. There is not a shortage of usable land in the area.

Julian managed to have a blast at Whistler, meeting athletes, celebrities and other young people. He said it was kind of a mood kill for someone spending money and enjoying the mountain scenery when he could and should be trying to find work. But it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. He still has a good attitude, as he wrote me offering an Olympic postcard (which I told him to send to Elizabeth) and I had to talk the tale of woe out of him.

It's a typical 'getting started in the industry' story, unfortunately it's typical right down to the setback just as the solos are approaching. (Solos are important for a new instructor, as he needs to teach three students to solo and three to licence before he can upgrade his instructor rating). I was going to make this into an ad for Julian's services as a Class 4 instructor, but the school reopened and he'll be able to go back to work.

11 comments:

nec Timide said...

Good for Julian and the school. The history of Lindsay over the past couple of years has been checkered. It is one of the best attended and worst supported community airports in Southern Ontario, if not the province or country. Sadly for the residents they will not know what they have there until it's gone.

dpierce said...

Sounds like the makings of a movie plot! (Needs a heartwarming ending, though.)

gmc said...

CAT4 - Qualicum Beach is also typical of local general aviation airports. It is currently managed (reasonably well) by a city council with no pilots among them. However, they demand that the airport operate as a "profic center," unlike the local roads, parking lots, arenas, playgrounds, community halls etc. etc..

Could you imagine if they demanded all town's facilities and resources become "profit centers" as well? And really it is a matter of bookkeeping. Some municipal facilities provide value in ways that typical accounting methods don't convert into obvious numbers (secondary and spin off benefits etc.)..

It's a tough row to hoe - keeping the neighbours airport-friendly and educated.

steve said...

GRRRRR! I really get annoyed when I hear of some little tin god abusing power and wasting public money.

What's even worse, is that when their ineptitude is discovered, they tend to get a handsome payoff.

What the hell happened to the concept of personal responsibility.

I hope the School's lawyer gets punitive damages for them and the official is demoted to his level of competence. (A book, "The Peter principle" espoused the theory that all employees rise to their level of incompetence,where they stay,or get shunted sideways to a position where there's less fallout...an amusing book with a lot of truth and fortunately ,lightened by many hilarious anecdotes.....
verification word "taban" --or not taban, that is the question!

Blake said...

I love Lindsay airport! I believe it was the first airport I've been to that was not my home airport.

It's a shame that school is in the situation that it is.

Paul B said...

Ah well, there's another "wasted" hour, using google maps to look at Lindsay, and its airport!

Looks a reasonably pleasant place to be....

Anonymous said...

@Steve - Government employees, especially municipal employees, don't get unemployed no matter how stupid, short-sighted their actions may be.

In fact, someone will probably be able to emphasize, at their annual performance approaisal, that they "took quick and decisive action which enabled the collection of an overdue payable".

JulesPilotLife said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Julian said...

The school is up and running now! (except for the massive snowstorm that is nailing Southern Ontario right now... just in time for me to come back from the Olympics..

Mark said...

Those lockdowns on aircraft are terrible.

Kingstondivepro said...

I'm one of those pilots who loves to fly into Lindsay for lunch or a coffee - and the school does great work. What a shame that municipal authorities all seem to be run by dolts who just don't appreciate the facilities that bring fame and honour to them...