Aviation alumni rallies for Selkirk College program

Efforts fall short of preserving aviation program in Castlegar

Pictured from left: James Elian (2000 grad) COO – Air Sprint; Steve Richards (1978 grad) B777 captain with Air Canada; Dalton Crowe

Pictured from left: James Elian (2000 grad) COO – Air Sprint; Steve Richards (1978 grad) B777 captain with Air Canada; Dalton Crowe

A group of people with past, present, and future interest in the aviation program at Selkirk College got together in Castlegar on Tuesday for what they expected to be an intense board meeting at the college.

They were prepared to receive the official announcement of the aviation program’s termination, but were also determined to present as compelling argument as possible in the program’s defense.

As it would turn out toward the end of a two hour session, the board voted 5-4 in favour of cancellation.

It had been publicized some months ago that the two-year pilots’ program would not be taking in new first-year students this coming September. The number of second-year students was three.

Following a board meeting in early July in which the issue was addressed, Selkirk College president Angus Graeme had told the Castlegar News, “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.”

Gathered at Selkirk’s facility at West Kootenay Regional Airport on Tuesday prior to the board meeting, a group of men with strong resumés insisted they’ve offered the college all kinds of help, making themselves and their expertise (in aviation as well as business) available, at no charge. Each of the men believed the program could be saved, that even if it needed adjustments, the highly-respected course could, and should continue.

The group maintained that it has put forth numerous suggestions and offers of assistance, but got the impression the fate of the program was sealed.

“We’ve had several meetings with the president, the vice-president and the dean at the college,” related (1978 grad) Air Canada pilot Steve Richards. “No matter what we offer, no matter what we’re able to do, no matter what the issue is… if we have a solution for it… another one pops up over here. We’ve come to the conclusion that they don’t give us positive feedback, they don’t give us direction because they don’t want the program to survive.”

“We had a meeting at my office in Calgary in February,” said James Elian (2000 grad), COO of Air Sprint, “when the program announced they would not be taking in first year students this September.”

Elian said a meeting was held with college personnel, at which he had a chance to review some program-related ‘financials.’

“It was a limited view,” said Elian, “but from what I saw there and what I’ve seen to date, I believe this program can not only survive, but thrive.”

Richards reiterated the point that he, Elian and others have knowledge and important connections that can be very helpful to the program.

Through it all the quality of the Selkirk Aviation grad, and the top notch reputation of the program  were  repeatedly touted.  The impassioned presentations, however, did not sway the board.

“This was an extremely difficult decision,” said Neil Coburn, Selkirk College Vice President of Education and Students of the recommendation to cancel the program.

College president Angus Graeme summed it up during the meeting, that it comes down to a form investment return for the greatest number of students, and that the aviation program, despite it’s rich history, was just one of many programs at the college.

“We’ve got to start fresh,” said Graeme just prior to the vote.

“We can’t make program decisions based on nostalgia.”

It does seem quite likely, however, that the three students will indeed be able to complete their second year at Selkirk College.

Richards, Elian, and Crowe were disappointed but upbeat following the decision, maintaining a cordial and still-ready-to-help demeanor.

Coinciding with the aviation enrollment which had dwindled of late, so had the faculty. Following the meeting, Professor Ray Preston spoke of the upcoming change at the tail end of a career  spanning more than 30 years.

“There were 1.2 positions,” he said walking to his car, “and I was the 1. I figure an early retirement package is better than a severance package, so I’ll apply for that next year.”