Flight school in Nunavik trains Inuit to fly in the North – North

As regional airlines start to feel the shortage of pilots, one northern airline is banking on its own flight school as a solution to the problem.

Air Inuit started its flight school in Kuujjuaq in 2012. Since then it’s welcomed 26 students, four of whom now fly for the airline.

The airline is based in Montreal and services communities across Nunavik. It was started 40 years ago this August and is owned by the Makivik Corporation, the region’s Inuit organization.

Pita Aatami is the president of Air Inuit. (Submitted by Cynthia Cartolano)

Choosing to put the school in Kuujjuaq served multiple goals according to Air Inuit’s president Pita Aatami. It was designed to contribute to Inuit employment and to attract pilots who would want a career flying in the North.

So far, Air Inuit has 17 Inuit pilots out of 131 pilots and has only lost one Inuk pilot to a larger southern carrier. Aatami says northerners are more likely to stay in the North and take advantage of employment perks like discounted flights and cargo prices as a way to offset the cost of northern living.

“It’s a challenge in itself to keep pilots, when they know they can get better benefits working for another organization, so we’re trying to come up with packages that are attractive.”

Northern weather ‘unpredictable’

Aatami says another reason to put the school in the North, despite the expense, is that it prepares pilots for the conditions they’ll be flying in.

“Everywhere in the world is becoming more unpredictable, it’s more so in the North, because it might be nice one minute, then a half hour later it becomes stormy, or it becomes a whiteout. It’s a challenging environment.”

The school in Kuujjuaq allows students to put in the hours and classroom time they need to get their private pilot’s licence. For this, they need about 40 to 60 hours of flying time, though some driven students can get it in fewer, Aatami says.

The course runs from June to September each year. On average…

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