Representatives from Providence University College, Harv’s Air Service, and Canadian North Airlines gather to witness the signing of their new partnership agreement. Brenda Sawatzky, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

This upcoming September, Providence University College will extend their long-standing aviation program to include a unique new pilot training program that caters specifically to Inuit students.

Partnering with Canadian North Airlines, the new program will emphasize training students from the north who will return to serve the north.

“We’re at a time now where we’re facing a fairly severe pilot shortage in this country and right around the world,” says Providence president Kenton Anderson. “So we’re excited to help meet that need. It’s one thing for some of us to hear about a pilot shortage and think about how it might affect our vacation. But it’s a completely different thing when we’re talking about a lifeline, as it affects… things like supply chain resource availability.”

Canadian North is a 100 percent Inuit-owned airline that has been connecting people of the north with essential goods and services for more than 70 years. They service 25 Indigenous communities in the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and the Nunavik territory in northern Quebec. In this region, two percent of Canada’s population is spread out across 40 percent of the country’s land mass.

Almost all of these communities have no road or rail access. The residents therefore rely on air service for the movement of people, food, and crucial goods. Flight is often the only way to access medical care and government services.

The goal of Canadian North is to equip these people with education and career opportunities that haven’t been readily available to them until now.

“What is not lost on me is the fact that, while we are a 100 percent Inuit-owned airline committed to Inuit and Indigenous self-reliance, for the most part, the men and women that are [flying the planes] into our communities are not Inuit,” says Shelley De Caria of Canadian North. “Today, I hope this will be the first major step in changing that.”

The aviation program at Providence, which spans nearly 40 years, is unique to any other flight school in Manitoba in that students can gain a degree in business management while working to attain their pilot license.

“I started my career many years ago and I can tell you that… sometimes pilots are in high demand and sometimes they’re not in high demand, as it was in the late 1980s when I was a pilot,” says Canadian North president and CEO Michael Rodyniuk. “And I can tell you that having a broad educational background is what carried me through.”

The Providence program is unique as well in its ability to equip students with aviation skills specifically required for northern flying.

“There’s some unique radio navigation aids and training that has to happen,” Rodyniuk says. “You can imagine when you get close to the north pole that your magnetic compass doesn’t work anymore so we have to have what’s called true north directional indication.”

Other phenomena like the northern lights can also wreak havoc with radio instrumentation, he adds.

The partnership deal with Providence will entrust Canadian North with the obligation of selecting high-potential Inuit students for the program. Successful graduates will then have a guaranteed offer of employment with Canadian North.

For the past 40 years, Providence has partnered with Harv’s Air Service of Steinbach to deliver the aviation training for their program. For the average student, tuition and flight training together comes with a $120,000 price tag.

For Inuit students, federal grant funding will help cover approximately 70 percent of their tuition, accommodation, and supply costs. According to De Caria, other organizational funding is available to help subsidize the rest.

Inuit students will find housing on the Providence campus as well as resources such as an English language program to improve their English proficiency if needed, although De Caria says that most Inuit students with a high school degree have a good working knowledge of English.

De Caria, herself of Inuit descent, says that Canadian North will ensure that Inuit students will be looked after when it comes to flying home between semesters. Once a student studying in Montreal, she keenly recalls the culture shock she experienced and the struggles she faced when she was disconnected from family and friends throughout her college years.

While the backbone of education at Providence places a strong emphasis on the Christian faith, students of any faith, culture, or background are welcome.

“All of the students that come in do take a certain number of courses that are biblically and theologically based, but that’s only a small part of their requirements,” says Providence professor Nicholas Greco.

Rodyniuk says that these ideals align with those of Canadian North, making the partnership a good one. As well, Canadian North has a historical connection with Harv’s Air, whose chairman received his pilot’s license with Harv in the 1970s.

For many years, Providence has been known as a welcoming place for students from around the globe.

“This is not the most threatening campus that you’re going to find,” Anderson says. “It’s not as large as some others, and I think we’re a friendly place that students can quickly adapt to.”

For Rodnyiuk, bringing the Inuit culture to the south will also have its merits.

“One of the great things is not so much the spreading of the southern life experience to our Inuit students, but more so the Inuit students sharing their cultural background and the rich history that they have with the southern folks.”

By Brenda Sawatzky, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jun 12, 2023 at 13:13

This item reprinted with permission from   The Citizen   Niverville, Manitoba
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