Sky’s the limit for students in a classroom with wings

The classroom for a Greater Victoria school district aviation program has ranged from the cockpit of a plane to the production floor at a fabrication facility.

New to the district and believed to be a first on Vancouver Island, aviation and design has engaged 14 students in many aspects of the aviation field this semester. Other such “career exploration” courses around the district cover construction, automotive work and adventure tourism.

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Students say the full-time aviation program, which bring students from around the district to Mount Douglas Secondary School, has set them on a good path. A five-week session of on-the-job training has been a highlight, said head instructor John Sumner, a former aircraft engineer who spent 25 years in the air wing of the British Royal Navy before turning to teaching.

“They came back totally enthused for work, and not just aviation per se,” Sumner said.

Megan Rees, 18 and in Grade 12, spent her work term at Pacific Sky Aviation. It included time as a flight dispatcher, and gave her an opportunity to learn about accounting and maintenance. She said she enjoyed the chance to try different tasks.

“I don’t know what I want to do yet,” she said. “It seems really interesting, but I’m interested in a lot of things.”

Liam Berry, also a Grade 12 student, said he enjoyed everything about his work term at Viking Air, which produces and maintains aircraft.

“I was mainly doing sheet metal,” said Berry, 18. “And then they put me into avionics, with the electronics of the plane.”

The program has added to his options, Berry said. “This has definitely made aviation pretty present and a possible career.”

The students’ interests were varied from the outset, Sumner said. “About 50 per cent of the class wanted to be pilots and the other 50 per cent wanted to be engineers [or] mechanics.”

He said all students went through ground-school training at Victoria Flying Club, which includes instruction in air-traffic control, meteorology, risk assessment and the workings of a plane.

Students also had two chances to fly a plane, with an instructor on the main controls.

Some of the aspiring pilots in the group had work terms at Victoria Flying Club, while others were with Vancouver Island Helicopters. Local companies have been a key part of the program’s success so far, Sumner said.

Vancouver Island Aerospace and the Victoria Airport Authority also provided work placements. One of the program’s strongest backers on the business side of things has been Viking Air’s Todd Sjerven.

“I’ve always wanted to see an aerospace program out here,” Sjerven said.

“Ultimately, my dream is to see students actually building an airplane.”

He said the feedback from students in the program has been uniformly positive.

“They come back and say: ‘Now I know what I want to do,’ ” he said. “It’s been really neat to be able to inspire these kids.”

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