In the summer of 2001, after working in a field other than aviation, I woke up one day and wondered what I was doing in a career not related to flying. After all, my grandfather was a pilot and I had always loved airplanes from a very early age. I have always felt (if possible) that flying was in my blood.
I made a commitment at that point to become a pilot. I emailed a place in the area and received a reply a few days later. They told me they had a ground-school class starting that night! The rest is history…
From there, halfway through my (private pilot) training, I decided I was going to commit 100% to a career and life of flying fixed-wing aircraft. I finished up a recreational pilot permit (RPP) and decided I would apply for the Diploma program at the Moncton Flight College in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada. Of course, this program is not easily affordable and my parents basically laughed at me when I told them my future plan of action. It was in approximately January of 2002 I decided I wanted to go to MFC and I was planning / aiming to start the May 2002 class. That was a bit too early and than I decided for the September 2002 start. But, still I couldn’t come up with all of the money. My dad told me if I wanted to go, I would have to work for a year and save up the money to live there (the course cost they would help me with). And you know…I actually did it.
I worked for a little more than a year (got a good job parking cars for two big hotels in Niagara Falls) and saved up more than $15,000.00. Needless to say, my focus never hindered. I will mention my parents flew out with me in September of 2002 to look at MFC. I would never decide personally, on choosing a school before seeing it for myself. So anyways, I was accepted in April to start the September 2003 diploma class at the Moncton Flight College and was more than ready to go.
Going to school and living in Moncton (on my own for the first time) was quite an experience on its own and I learned more about life in those two years than ever before. I won’t get into MFC because that would take up too much time and there are many great schools out there, I’m sure. Just pick the one that suits you best.
I graduated from MFC in April of 2005 with honours. It was a lot of hard work, so you gotta be committed all the way. After graduating, I moved back to Ontario and started looking into a few different things. One place I really wanted to work was Niagara Air Tours (CYSN). I did my research and had been visiting them from time-to-time whenever I was back in the area. Right there is the key to ‘landing’ your first job. You have to go in person and have them get to know you! And, when they’re looking for a pilot or two they’ll remember you…hopefully ; ) And that, in a nutshell, is what happened. I received a call for an interview on Victoria Day and was hired a few hours later. That was one of the most unexpected happiest days of my life. Especially, because they normally do the hiring for the season in March and by May I thought the boat had sailed far away by that time. But, unexpected things happen and you have to be ready if/when that call comes…and I was. I would also recommend focusing as much as possible on the places around you first. Companies are very reluctant to call on people from far away in the low-time world. I happened to be living already within about 10 - 15 minutes of N.A.T., and that definitely was in my favor.
As I am now finishing this off after starting to write this a few months ago, it is the end of my first season at Niagara Air Tours. Did I learn anything? Am I the same pilot as when I first started? Well, you better believe I learned a few things! I may be the same pilot as when I started, but I am definitely much more experienced.
I’ve now logged a total of over 800 take-off and landings, nearly half of which are just from this season. Some of them included 90 degree x-winds or even quartering tail-winds, overshooting, being forced to choose another runway 2 miles out due to traffic in the ‘mandatory frequency’ uncontrolled, everyman for himself world, special VFR, passengers holding onto the controls on short final, and many other fun things. I have also now been lucky enough to experience the majestic Niagara Falls around 400 times from the air. However, I am definitely not complaining or trying to seem bored of it. I love this job…at least the part of it when we are actually flying ; )
I have experienced many, many different things including culture. I have flown more than 1000 people from literally all over this planet. My picture has been taken more times than I seriously ever thought it would be in my entire life just over this summer and now I am in scrap books, video library’s, on the internet, and maybe even in a few frames out there in houses and places I will never even see during my life or ever know. To me, that is kinda cool.
Countless times, I’ve had people tell me after the flight, that it was there first time ever in an airplane. I’ve even flown other pilot’s from countries such as husband and wife, twin otter driver’s from South Africa, a retired military pilot from France and one retired Air Canada B767 Captain.
Flying aerial tours is definitely not the easiest way to build up time, being that every tour is only a half-hour flight time and there are many slow days throughout the season. I will finish up this year having flown just over 200 hours over five months. Not a lot, but at least I was paid to fly those hours instead of paying for them myself, as in the wonderfully expensive world of flight training.
The aircraft I had the privilege of driving this year were starting out on our two C172’s and after a few weeks of proving myself, I was moved up to the Cessna U206F (six-place, 300hp) machine. Flying the 206 was invaluable experience. It kind of makes the 172 seem like a toy after a while.
Now, I am looking to move onto a ground position for the winter to stay in the industry until next season where I hope to move onto flying somewhere else perhaps on more complex aircraft. Time will tell…
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