PARRY SOUND - Late last month, four students from Conestoga College and the University of Waterloo learned the fundamentals of flying a float plane from Georgian Bay Airways.
Keith Saulnier, Georgian Bay Airways co-owner and commercial pilot, spent 12- and 14-hour days with the men and women who train through the Waterloo Wellington Flight Club in Breslu, teaching them everything from emergency landings, cross-wind takeoffs and landings, glassy water takeoffs and landings and working the dock.
For the last 10 years, Saulnier and members of Georgian Bay Airways have travelled to a number of colleges and universities, talking to students looking to obtain an aviation diploma or degree.
Usually in the spring or fall, Georgian Bay Airways trains a wide range of students looking for their first taste of float plane flying.
“Students come wanting to get a taste of float flying,” said Saulnier. “To get your float endorsement you have to fly solo. Some just want to get the float endorsement, just to see what the world of floats is like. Some want to take advanced training. I layer the training on from there. For the float endorsement, there’s a standard we’re supposed to bring them up to before we can allow them to go solo.
“There’s a whole checklist of things that they have to be able to do and do well, but that’s just scratching the surface. Yes you can do it, you’ve demonstrated you can do it, but that’s on today’s conditions only. You need to get a whole wealth of experience.”
Saulnier said some schools incorporate float training right into their program, while at other schools students are given the opportunity to choose whether they would like to take float training or not.
The students who spent four days here last week where at all different levels of experience, some had just 60 hours of flight training, while others had 150 hours of training under their belts, but all of them had their private pilot’s license.
Additionally, all of the students flew solo and received their float endorsement.
“Not everybody makes it through. We have to be confident in your competence. If you don’t achieve the standards that we have, we don’t send you (on a solo flight),” Saulnier said.
Marina Golinowski said she always had a goal to get her pilot’s license and as a new private pilot, she was excited about the opportunity to train at Georgian Bay Airways.
“When I found out that I could get my float endorsement at Georgian Bay Airways, I was ecstatic,” wrote Golinowski in an email. “For four days, I learned everything from how to work the dock, to taking off and landing on floats, to glassy water work and, last but not least, my first solo. I had the opportunity to experience what life as a float pilot is truly like. My time at Georgian Bay Airways was an amazing adventure and further solidified my love for flying. I am definitely looking forward to getting back up on the step in the near future.”
On the third day of training, student Spencer Laidlaw was told by Saulnier that he would be taking his first solo light.
“We landed and taxied up to the motorboat, once my instructor jumped out I was up for the five takeoffs and landings I needed to get my rating,” wrote Laidlaw in an email. “Four action-packed days at Georgian Bay Airways that ended all too quickly but will stay with me for a lifetime.”
Student Tyler Frankie admitted he was more interested in experiencing float plane flight for the first time than actually receiving his rating.
“I wanted to see what it was like to be a bush pilot,” wrote Frankie in an email. “I fell in love with it. It’s a whole other type of flying. I enjoyed every part of my week at Georgian Bay Airways - the atmosphere, the people, the flying. I don’t plan on that being the last time I fly floats; it’s truly something else.”
Keith Lamb said one of the best lessons he learned over the four-day training was that mistakes happen, but to always learn from them to grow as a pilot.
“I only had 75 hours going into Georgian Bay Airways, but the 10 (hours) I earned on floats has been the best yet,” Lamb wrote in an email. “I wasn’t sure what to expect, but after that first flight, I was hooked.”
Although it’s difficult for Saulnier to choose a favourite part about his line of work, when it comes to training and educating fellow pilots, seeing them succeed is the most satisfying reward.
“The look on their face when they get it. When I’m teaching the lesson and after the flight, you see everything click and they’ve mastered that skill. Passing along that knowledge, that skill - that’s my favourite part, easily,” he said.