Kelowna-Lake Country Mp Stephen Fuhr, a former pilot with Canadian Air Force, checks out the cockpit of the Boeing 747 SP Image: Stephen Fuhr

Fuhr: A looming pilot shortage

By Stephen Fuhr

Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with local COPA members at the Kelowna Flying Club. COPA, the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association, has over 200 regional and local chapters and represents close to 16,000 members in every province and territory as the recognized voice of general aviation in Canada.

At the meeting we discussed a number of general aviation issues to include the status of pilot training in Canada. There was an overwhelming consensus that there was a need for better support for our flight training schools and student pilots in order to increase pilot production.

To this end I indicated that I had tabled private members motion M-177, which comes before the House of Commons this October, and asks the Standing Committee on Transport to review the growing problem of pilot shortage in the Canadian aviation industry.

As COPA members have indicated, half of Canada’s flight operators state that finding qualified pilots is a significant challenge, an assertion confirmed by the findings of Suzanne Kearns, Associate Professor of Aviation at the University of Waterloo.

At current pilot production rates it is estimated that Canada will be short nearly 3000 pilots by 2025 and nearly 6000 by 2036.

Adding to the problem, the International Civil Aviation Organization estimates that on a global scale, 80 percent of the 620,000 new pilots that will be needed to sustain expected growth in passenger traffic by 2036 have yet to begin training.

And if finding qualified pilots is a challenge, finding qualified instructors is equally challenging as more experienced pilots are being snapped up by commercial airlines to fill their own vacancies.

For local operators the effect is immediate. As noted by the BC Aviation Council, one local operator has had to hire and train the equivalent of 100% of their pilot workforce in less than a year. Not only is this a costly endeavour, it creates the additional problem of a pool of less experienced pilots.

To try to fill the gap, operators are actively recruiting internationally but are running headlong into immigration issues that make hiring outside Canada an economic impossibility.

As for those people who are interested in becoming pilots, traditional pathway to becoming a pilot in Canada involves earning licenses and ratings that cost approximately $75,000 and twice that if combined with a degreed or diploma program offered at a number of post secondary’s across the country. It’s a financial burden many cannot afford to take on.

These are only a few of the issues facing the aviation industry which need to be addressed and I am hopeful that the Committee review will result in robust recommendations to the Government of Canada.

Whether by land, sea, or air, the safe and efficient movement of goods and people is essential for the growth of the economy and we must support the general aviation industry in recognition of its importance to local and regional economies.

I want to thank local members of COPA for speaking with me and look forward to working with my caucus and opposition colleagues this fall to find ways to alleviate the challenges being faced in this vital sector.

Stephen Fuhr is the Member of Parliament for Kelowna-Lake Country and Chair of the Standing Committee on National Defence

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