Program gives wings to students with a passion for aviation

Story by: Beth Gallagher

Chelsea-Anne Edwards walks out on the tarmac to the plane she will fly. It’s a sun-drenched fall day and the third-year aviation student looks to the sky. “The clouds are pretty low,” she says. “The higher the clouds, the better.”

There isn’t fear in her voice, though. It’s just an observation for a young woman who has been a pilot for more than a year. She circles the plane and runs her hands along the rudder and the propeller. During her pre-flight “walk-around,” Edwards looks for fuel leaks, checks for missing bolts and inspects the tire tread. She checks the front edge of the wings and makes sure the first aid kit is on board.

Edwards takes off from the Waterloo Wellington Flight Centre and flies for two hours, which seems like a long time for a mid-day flight on a school day, but it’s nothing compared to the journey she started two years ago — the one that has taken her from being a high school student in small-town Ontario to a young woman on a career path to become a commercial airline pilot.

Grounded in education

When Edwards touches down, she will head back to Waterloo’s main campus for a late afternoon lecture. As a geography student in Waterloo’s seven-year-old aviation program, Edwards’ course load includes geomatics, climatology, cartography and remote sensing.

In a university recognized globally for innovative experiential education opportunities, Waterloo’s aviation program is a prime example of how rigorous academic studies can blend with hands-on learning to produce graduates ready to embrace the demands of the real world.

Waterloo’s aviation students earn a Bachelor of Science or a Bachelor of Environmental Studies at the same time they become licensed pilots. A relatively new program, aviation has been offered in Waterloo classrooms since the fall of 2007, with flight training beginning the following year. The program is a demanding one, says Aviation Director Ian McKenzie. Students balance a regular course load with flight training. Required ground school and flight labs can take more than 10 hours every week, along with three to four hours of actual flying.

“The students who are successful in the program are the ones who have tremendous time management skills.” – Ian McKenzie

Edwards says she knew in high school that she definitely wanted a university degree. “I knew I wanted to fly but I’m also a person who loves the academic side of learning,” she says.

Read the full story on the University of Waterloo website

The field of aviation has evolved significantly over the past 50 years. Aviation and aerospace industries demand a new breed of specialists who have a comprehensive academic background to help them understand complex aircraft systems, and well-developed analytical, critical thinking and decision-making skills. Flight training is a requirement for many aviation and aerospace careers. A university degree is regarded by the airline industry as a valuable asset for a pilot, and is rapidly becoming a requirement for the profession.