Original Published 14:51 Apr 19, 2022

By Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

A new pilot training program is coming to a northern Manitoba community and those behind the program say they hope it will create more opportunities for Indigenous people to get trained as pilots, and to seek careers in the aviation industry.

“Flight training is costly, especially so if a student has to relocate away from their family and community,” Exchange Income Corporation (EIC) director of aviation programs Robin Jacuzzi said.

“We wanted to create an opportunity that overcomes many of the challenges that Indigenous people face when considering a career in aviation.”

EIC is a Manitoba-based company that owns both Calm Air and Perimeter Aviation, two airlines that serve a number of northern and remote communities in Manitoba.

Last week EIC announced the launch of the Atik Mason Indigenous Pilot Pathway program (Pathway), a program that they said will be a “fully-funded opportunity for Indigenous community members to learn to fly and build careers as professional pilots.”

According to Jacuzzi, the Pathway program will create funded pilot training opportunities in Thompson, a northern city that sits more than 750 kilometres north of Winnipeg, and where there is a large Indigenous population both in the city and in the surrounding areas and communities.

“Providing fully-funded training in the heart of northern Manitoba will allow Pathway members to maintain a strong connection to their homes and cultures while they challenge themselves to build the skills and confidence to fly professionally,” Jacuzzi said.

As part of the Pathway program, MFC Training, which EIC said is Canada’s largest flight training school, will establish a seasonal training base in Thompson.

“The Pathway program has been designed to remove significant barriers to flight training faced by Indigenous candidates, including cost and location, and honours the importance of retaining a deep connection to Indigenous culture while training,” EIC’s chief executive officer Mike Pyle said.

Pyle added that EIC supports efforts at reconciliation with Indigenous people in Manitoba and across Canada, and said that to work towards that goal there needs to be “not just words but action.”

He added that the program will hope to not only train, but also hire Indigenous pilots, and get them started in their flying careers.

“Pathway members will be awarded employment as a pilot for one of EIC’s local air operators following successful completion of their commercial pilot licence,” Pyle said.

And according to Pyle, EIC has taken other steps recently to build positive relationships with Indigenous people and communities in Manitoba, including a recent initiative that saw the company work with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs to bring more than 1,000 members of Indigenous communities to Winnipeg to attend a Blue Bombers game.

“At that time, we said that reconciliation needed to be an ongoing process, and we are putting those words into action with the establishment of Pathway,” Pyle said.

According to EIC the program is named after Timothy Atik Mason, a St. Theresa Point man who at the age of 35 began to pursue his dreams of becoming a pilot, and has since become the first Indigenous pilot from one of the First Nations communities that EIC airlines serves, to fly for the company.

And Mason will now have close ties to the new program, as EIC said he will be one of the flight instructors, mentors and cultural leaders working with Pathway.

EIC has also teamed up with Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) an organization that represents dozens of First Nations communities in northern Manitoba, and MKO will work with EIC to help create the program.

“The Atik Mason Indigenous Pilot Pathway will open doors for our people,” MKO Grand Chief Garrison Settee said in a release. “MKO is pleased for the opportunity to work closely with EIC to help make this program successful and empower a young generation of Canadian pilots who represent the communities they serve.”

This item is reprinted with permission from Winnipeg Sun, Winnipeg, Manitoba