Friday, December 30, 2011

Flight college changed ownership: New owner CANLink Aviation continues to operate Moncton Flight College to train pilots from around the world

There were some broken hearts in Metro Moncton on Valentine's Day 2011, when the Moncton Flight College was placed in receivership and its future was in jeopardy.

The Moncton Flight College is one of the city's oldest institutions. For several days in February, its fate seemed uncertain but in the end the college was purchased by a new owner that promised business as usual and expanded operations for the future.

The flight college has long been a part of Metro Moncton's landscape. It traces its roots back to 1929 and the Moncton Flying Club, a small group of aviation pioneers who built the first airport and established air mail service in Atlantic Canada in the 1930s. At the outbreak of the Second World War, the club was instrumental in setting up the Moncton branch of the Commonwealth Air Training Program to train pilots and aircrew. The flying club also trained commercial pilots. The flying club eventually established the Moncton Flight College. In recent years, the college had expanded with new contracts to train commercial airline pilots from around the world, especially from China.

The college had recently put up a new building, constructed a dormitory for students and invested in high-tech equipment like flight simulators. At any given time, there would be about 200 Chinese students at the college and the cafeteria served authentic Chinese food. Look up in the sky over Moncton at just about any hour of the day or night, and you can see the small two-seater Diamond aircraft trainers. Essentially, the sky over Moncton is their classroom.

So it was a bit of a shock when it was announced that the Moncton Flying Club, the non-profit entity which owns the flight college, was placed into receivership for non-payment of a bank loan. This came about six months after the retirement of long-time principal Mike Doiron, who was replaced by Al Pendergast.

Officials from the college, the provincial government and receivers Ernst & Young immediately went into a series of meetings to negotiate a merger of the college with CANLink Aviation.

CANLink Aviation is a Fredericton-based company that looks after the Fredericton franchise of the Moncton Flight College. CANLink's CEO, Mike Tilley, had been instrumental in brokering deals between the college and the Chinese to train pilots here. The Chinese pilots who come to Moncton have already passed through a series of rigorous tests and evaluations, and usually have jobs waiting for them as soon as they graduate.

After several days of negotiations, the merger deal was complete. CANLink effectively assumed the Moncton Flight College's debts and assets. At the same time, the college was to be transformed from a non-profit organization into a business that would continue the tradition of training pilots from around the world. A deal was reached after several days of negotiations and the acquisition closed on April 8.

When it went into receivership, CanLink opted to keep most of the employees in Moncton, but 21 positions were lost. The 21 positions lost include administrative personnel, maintenance technicians and flight instructors. Tilley said CANLink felt there were too many employees at the school and the number was trimmed from 86 to 65 to bring the organization to the right size, based on the amount of business now being done and expectations for the near future.

Otherwise, Tilley said business would continue as usual as CANLink would continue operations at both Moncton and Fredericton campus locations under the trade name, Moncton Flight College (MFC).

"This has been a year of change at MFC and we feel things are moving in the right direction," Tilley told the Times & Transcript in an e-mail from China. " We've continued all of our program offerings and had a decent enrollment this fall. North American operators are stressing the importance of further education for new commercial pilots which is driving considerable interest in our two-year diploma program and four-year degree program with Mount Allison University," he said.

"We have also just signed a new China contract and hope to grow our MPL business with CAE and Air Asia in 2012. The college employs over 90 staff at the two bases combined. The demand for pilots is quite strong internationally and the college will continue to think and act globally when recruiting."

China will remain a key market for MFC as demand continues to soar. Despite the recent worldwide economic downturn, China's demand for new aircraft and new pilots to crew them shows remarkable growth. Chinese authorities project 1.5 billion passenger trips a year by 2030, which will make China the largest air transport market in the world.

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