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Changes possible for Selkirk College air program

In happier times, pilot and Selkirk grad Max Cameron, left, gave Selkirk College President Angus Graeme a look at the cockpit of a CF-18 fighter jet during an aviation program reunion on Sept. 18, 2012.   - Jim Sinclair
In happier times, pilot and Selkirk grad Max Cameron, left, gave Selkirk College President Angus Graeme a look at the cockpit of a CF-18 fighter jet during an aviation program reunion on Sept. 18, 2012.
— image credit: Jim Sinclair

The sky’s the limit in terms of students’ elbow room in the second-year portion of the aviation curriculum at Selkirk College. There are just three  students currently going through the Castlegar-based program and the College is seeing to it that they will complete the course as per their plans.

Enrollment numbers are obviously down, but not such that the program is necessarily facing discontinuation in spite of the program’s intake having been suspended.

“We’re probably going to need to get our board of governors together toward the end of this month,” informed college president Angus Graeme on July 9. “No decisions have been made at this point.”

The long-running (about 45 years) aviation program may be a high-profile draw for the college but Graeme points out it is valued on an equal footing overall.

“We offer 68 programs across the West Kootenay-Boundary, some of them two years, some of them one, some of them… four,” said Graeme. “Every program’s important. What we’re trying to work through with this one is… ‘What is a sustainable model, to see it continue?’”

A contributing factor is the number of options now available to students pursuing aviation-related careers.

“When the program started in 1971 it was the only one in Canada, if not Western Canada,” Graeme continued. “Now, in B.C. alone there are five others as well as us. It’s a different world. We’re the only one that runs our own fleet of aircraft. The others are all private, public partnerships. It’s a tremendously expensive program to maintain to the standard you need in order to make it safe and sustainable.”

Graeme and his colleagues have some serious meetings ahead, with short and long term items on the agenda.

“There’s sort of two separate things,” the college president explained. “The priority for me is, ‘how are we going to support those three students to complete their diplomas?’ The other issue is the ongoing analysis of whether the program, in its current form, is sustainable.”

A familiar question from outside the program involves stepped up recruitment efforts, which Graeme says are not as simple as they seem.

“It’s not as easy as it sometimes rolls off the tongue,” Graeme stated, “marketing can be something that can produce results, but it’s not always a direct link to increased business.”

The president concluded by giving an assurance that any significant upcoming decisions by the Selkirk College board, on the aviation program or other program, would be accompanied by a related press release.

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