Thursday, March 02, 2017

Mount Royal grounds twin-engine planes as precaution during plane crash investigations: Tecnam P2006T, C-GRDV

Jeffrey Bird (left) and Reynold "Reyn" Johnson (right) were killed when their small passenger plane crashed northwest of Cochrane on February 13, 2017.

Mount Royal University has confirmed the aviation program's remaining two TECNAM planes are grounded indefinitely after a tragic crash killed two pilot instructors.

The decision comes as students return to flying for the first time since the plane went down. The twin-engine planes will be grounded until the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) and the school finish their respective investigations. 

Students, of which there are 66 registered, returned to the cockpit this week in the program's five other planes - single-engine Cessna 172s.

"We are trying to come to terms with what's gone on as we begin to resume regular flying operations," said Leon Cygman, chair of Mount Royal University’s Aviation program. "It's true that we can't instantly pick up where we left off, we are taking a cautious and deliberate approach to getting back into the air."

Students are being sat in the cockpit again, but this time, instead of taking to the skies in their regular exercises, their instructors are asking them how they feel before leading them to a fly around the airport in circuits before heading to their designated practice area and coming back.

Luc Sinal, right stands by the now-grounded TECNAM airplane with Leon Cygman, chair of Mount Royal University’s Aviation program.

"Our initial reaction is disappointment," said Luc Sinal, president of the MRU Student Aviation Executive. "We're all ready to get back to flying…this will delay our training, but our school is doing a good job at being accommodating."

Sinal said each of the students are in unique positions and at different points in their schooling.

This is the first week back in the air for students since the loss of Jeff Bird and Reyn Johnson, two of the program's flight instructors.

Before starting class again, Sinal said the tight-knit crew of people sat and talked about what was on their minds, and where the program would go, then they were ready to move on from there.

Cygman said none of the students have dropped out of the program in response to the tragedy.

"This is our decision alone," Cygman said. "Given the tragedy, and as safety's our top priority, we want to get all facts. We are acting with caution until we receive complete reviews, including our own internal review, and the findings of the TSB investigation.

He said he openly supports the aircraft, and the decision is being made because MRU won't compromise on safety.

Students were only told about the grounding Thursday afternoon, at the school's first opportunity. MRU made the decision before a press conference on Monday.

Although the school still has five other crafts, they are single engine machines, and the TECNAM grounding means some students who need experience on twin-engine machines won't complete their program on time.

Cygman said MRU is exploring options to lease aircrafts and partnering with other flight schools; as long as they can meet their own program's stringent standards.

"Unfortunately this tragedy has provided opportunities, and this is one of them, to evaluate other aircraft that best suits our needs," Cygman said. "We're quite fortunate being at Springbank. A lot of the companies around here are flight schools…we don't think they'll need to go anywhere outside the airport."

The program will be carrying another burden, with the tragedy and grounding of planes comes additional costs. Though it's not yet clear what those costs could be, Cygman said the institution is behind them and students won't have those burdens passed on to them. 

The school has said it will go ahead with its annual wings ceremony on April 29. That ceremony allows students to celebrate the achievements of the last year.


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