Learning to fly just got easier

In a second-floor office of Alkan Air, there is a bulletin board that holds photos of pilots with their aircraft.

The pilots are smiling – and a few of them are wet.

“This is the First Solo Wall,” says Dan Rosen, Alkan Air flight training unit officer. “We splash them with a cold bucket of water.”

Wendy Tayler, Alkan Air’s president, wasn’t splashed with water after her first solo, but she understands: “It’s mean, but it’s standard.”

“It helps create memories,” Rosen explains. “It’s a tradition; I got a cold splash of water when I did my first solo, and when I became an instructor and my first student soloed, he got splashed and so did I.”

“You will never forget your first solo,” Tayler adds. “You will remember every minute.

“My instructor told me that I had just joined a very select few people on this earth: very few people have flown alone.

“It is a very special thing to accomplish.”

Since opening the flight school in October, more and more photos are added to this wall.

When this wall is full, that’s okay, because by then a new building will be ready to move into. Hopefully in September.

“The one thing we haven’t had in the Yukon for several years was a flight school,” says Tayler. “But we knew we wanted to grow beyond the handful of Yukon adults wanting to learn to fly; we wanted to build something that we could market nationally and offer a two-year college program.

“So, we met with Yukon College in October of last year and they jumped on it.”

Usually, a flight school needs to be established for 10 or 15 years before a college will partner with it.

“Fortunately, many of the people at the college are really passionate individuals and they are moving toward becoming a university and they want to strengthen every program they have,” Tayler says.

“This was a really good fit as the flight school folds in nicely with their business courses.”

As a two-year business aviation diploma, students can apply for government grants and student loans.

Rosen was plucked from the medevac flight line and asked to step back into the role of an instructor.

“Then Wendy called me in to see if I wanted to actually run the flight school,” says Rosen.

“To build it,” Tayler clarifies.

“Build it, yeah, not just run it,” says Rosen. “Pretty soon, we didn’t have enough space for the ground schools as we were outgrowing our boardroom and had to teach in the waiting area downstairs.”

Tayler had plans to bring in even more students: “We are also going after international students, starting with India, and once we do that we will need more space.

“In the new building, we will have classrooms that will accommodate 28 students.”

As the only flight school in the three territories, there is a niche market that can be filled.

“The skill set for a bush pilot is very, very different,” Tayler says. “You have short runways, gravel runways and, in the Yukon in particular, you have all the winds coming off the different mountain ranges.

“Every mountain creates its own weather to some degree.”

“The judgment and skill set has to be honed quite well,” says Rosen.

Various air operations have specific needs. Tayler says they can customize a program for them. For instance, a Nunavut company would need them to train a pilot for remote bush work and short runways.

So, the new flight school now has three planes, a simulator and will soon have its own building. How did that happen so fast?

Tayler answers almost automatically: “We are entrepreneurs.”

For more information is available at www.alkanair.com.

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