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Sudbury Aviation page 3

Story and photos by Robert S. Grant

Few companies allow solo float aircraft rental after their students obtain a private pilot licence, and in most cases, insurance companies dictate the rules. To overcome this, Mel Laidlaw and retired instructor Wayne Maitland developed an effective program for newly endorsed seaplane pilots, including five two-hour trips focusing on low-level navigation, beaching, sailing and crosswind handling at more than a dozen lakes of various lengths.

A one-page bush course outline describes each trip in detail. Through instructors Guillaume Gagnon and Gary Pitre, as well as Laidlaw, students must obtain weather briefings oriented toward VFR map reading and calculate takeoff and landing distances based on Cessna 172 gross weights and density altitudes. With an emphasis on basics, they draw course lines on topographical charts and estimate headings, time, distance and ground speed without rulers, flight computers or GPS equipment.

Margaret Watson Hyland’s company has been accident-free in all respects, including the flight school. Thanks to the bush course, her insurance rates have become some of the lowest in the industry. Pilots, experienced or otherwise, are not allowed to push weather and could find themselves in serious trouble with 5-foot-5 Margaret if they do.

One of the most unusual aspects of Sudbury Aviation involves the fact that commercial pilot trainees do not have to leave the seaplane/skiplane-oriented organization without their night flying endorsements. The Cessna 172s are approved for training from what is one of the country’s few lighted ski strips.

“Each winter we go around the village [Azilda] and pick up discarded Christmas trees, mark out a landing path and then illuminate them with flare pots,” explained Margaret. “The runway is 100 feet wide and has a tree every 200 feet, which can be seen four miles back.”

Flight schools everywhere experience difficulty finding experienced instructors, but the problem for seaplane operators has become much more acute. Transport Canada requires 50 hours on seaplanes before teaching ab initio on floats. Even with Sudbury Aviation’s bush course, licensed pilots rarely meet minimums when they arrive in Azilda seeking employment, and anyway, said Margaret, by this time they’re “flat broke.”

Many ex-employees and graduates would quickly testify to the generosity of Margaret Watson Hyland. Some came with float endorsements from elsewhere, and Margaret, recognizing talent, encouraged a select few to fly without cost to build time. She expected them to remain on staff and instruct, and few have ever let her down.

“Young instructors put in a couple seasons and wind up with about a thousand hours. Now they’ve got the experience to move on, and we don’t hold that against them,” Margaret said. “One had seven job opportunities, did another season for somebody else before getting a multi-IFR rating and now flies for a regional airline.”

Most air services as successful as Sudbury Aviation would step into twin engine airplanes either for charter or for multi-engine training on wheels. This would mean a costly move to an airport. As for seaplanes, the Twin Beech would not suit the short-trip nature of Sudbury’s work. For airport flights, a Beechcraft D95A Travel Air of Eagle Flight Centre at Garson already handles the twin requirements of the region. Marg has no intention of competing.

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