Celebration held for graduates of First Nations pilot training program


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About 150 people were on hand at the Calm Air hangar at the Thompson airport on Monday to celebrate the 11 graduates of the first intake of the Atik Mason Indigenous Pilot Pathway, fully funded by Exchange Income Corp.

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About 150 people were on hand at the Calm Air hangar at the Thompson airport on Monday to celebrate the 11 graduates of the first intake of the Atik Mason Indigenous Pilot Pathway, fully funded by Exchange Income Corp.

All 11 of the students from First Nation communities throughout the North have completed their first solo flight, 10 of them have completed their first flight test and some have completed the Transport Canada written exam portion of the licensure.

The rest are expected to write the exam in the next couple of weeks.

“I’ve got my pilots licence? Holy smokes. It’s pretty exciting,” said Nathan Beardy, one of the graduates. “We could not have done it without the support of entire team here. The level of support they have brought to our team, my classmates, was amazing. They were all dedicated to us succeeding.”

The program was an initiative of Winnipeg-based EIC — which owns a number of regional airlines, including Perimeter Aviation, Calm Air and Keewatin Air — as part of its response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action.

All expenses have been paid for each of the students including room and board and training from officials from Moncton Flight College in New Brunswick, another enterprise owned by EIC.

“Everyone is extremely pleased, and yes, absolutely, the intention is to do another intake next year,” said Robin Jacuzzi, EIC’s director of aviation programs.

The current graduating class will all have the chance to continue on to earn their commercial pilot licence either in Moncton this fall or next May in Thompson. Again, all expenses will be paid.

The graduates were honoured by a host of dignitaries including some chiefs and councillors from three communities, Grand Chief Garrison Settee of MKO and Colleen Smook, the mayor of Thompson.

Settee is proud of the accomplishments of the program’s members.

“Our people are resilient and talented,” he said in a prepared statement. “This shows that, given the opportunity, they can achieve great things and will inspire the next generation of their community members to do the same. This program shows reconciliation in action, equipping participants with skills and confidence that will follow them wherever their paths in life lead.”

The program was conceived as a way for EIC to show their commitment to the First Nation communities that its airlines service and to hopefully be able to start featuring Indigenous pilots flying the planes that are, for some of the communities, their only source of transportation in and out of the community.

The program is named after Timothy Atik (Tik) Mason, a pilot with Perimeter from St. Theresa Point, who was the first recipient of a special scholarship for Indigenous pilot trainees.

In addition to carrying on again next year, the company is thinking about expanding the program into Nunavut.

“This time next year they will be full-fledged commercial pilots. It has been a big success,” said Mike Pyle the chief executive officer of EIC.

Once they achieve their commercial licences, all participants will be offered jobs with EIC airlines.

“For me, the exciting part is that this may lead to role model,” Pyle said. “If we do a good job this could snowball.”

The graduation falls on the same week as EIC hosts about 1,000 young people from Indigenous communities across the province to attend the Winnipeg Blue Bomber-Saskatchewan Roughriders CFL game on Friday at IG Field.

That game falls on Canada’s National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, colloquially known as Orange Shirt Day.

Members of both teams will wear orange jerseys during warm-up.


Martin Cash

Martin Cash

Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.

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