Careers in aviation fields may be on the rebound

By Mike Lipsius
Special to

Canadian students considering a career in aviation may be surprised to know that now's as good of a time as any to enrol.

Though many airlines and aerospace companies have made headlines with job cuts and financial trouble since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, a rebound is expected.

Jeff Durand, director of flight operations at Coastal Pacific Aviation, a flight school working in conjunction with aviation programs at University College of Fraser Valley, says because of the "slingshot effect of post-9/11" there will be a big demand for workers in the aviation industry.

"It's a knee-jerk reaction. People said, 'We've got to cut back on flights and aircraft.' Now with the economy picking up, in particular the US economy and GDP, there are more people flying and airlines don't have the personnel to supply these floats of added passengers," says Durand. "People who go into a course now will be prime picking in a few years, so it's a very good time to be a student."

Human Resources Development Canada seems to back up Durand's claim. On the HRDC's Web site, they say work prospects for pilots, flight engineers and flying instructors are fair through 2007 and that there will likely be growth. The growth is attributed to a stronger airline industry and a return of the public's confidence in airlines as a mode of travel.

They do caution, however, that despite this improvement, the employment growth rate will likely be below average. They also mention that the HRDC study was done several years ago and things are very hard to predict during ongoing problems with terrorists and times of war.

Many aviation programs have added or updated programs or upgraded facilities. For instance, Confederation College in Thunder Bay, Ontario, has constructed the Aviation Centre of Excellence as a training facility for aviation students. They have also added an avionics maintenance program, which will train students in repairing electronic components of aircraft. The additions are due to an industry demand, according to Confederation's Community Connections Director, Brian Ktytor.

"Generally, in a very short period of time, there is going to be a demand for aerospace employees," says Ktytor. "When you are trying to meet this demand, you can't just turn that on, you need to be ahead of the ball."

Ktytor and Durand also add there will be a large number of aviation and aerospace workers retiring in the next few years.

Dr. David Greatrix, associate chair of the aerospace engineering program at Ryerson University in Toronto, says the economic issues the aviation and aerospace have faced may have deterred some, but not many, from enrolling in the program.

"People take the aerospace engineering program because they love flight and they love space," says Greatrix.

Enrolment in the program is up to 150 from 130 in previous years due to an increase in applicants, but Greatrix admits it's partly due to Ontario's Double Cohort.

Greatrix says he also sees a change where more women may get involved in the industry.

"As far as here at Ryerson, we are trying to encourage more female high school students to apply for our engineering programs," says Greatrix.

He says while there are usually under 10 female students enrolling in a class, a few years ago there would only be a couple.

"Statistically, I know that's a low percentage, but that's slowly changing," says Greatrix.

He blames the low number on social peer pressure that encourages females to steer away from mathematics.

Durand says about 30 per cent of students at Coastal Pacific Aviation are female.

"There are a growing number of women in the aviation program and there's definitely a place for them in the aviation industry," says Durand.

He says the starting salary for a pilot can be $20,000 - 42,000, with those willing to locate to northern posts earning more money. Many students may have to do work on the runway or outside the plane before they get their chance to fly full-time.

"You're not going to go out of school and into the cockpit of a 747," says Durand.

Modified on April 23, 2009