In my book, So, You Want to be a Pilot, Eh? I outline the general pros and cons of doing your flight training through a traditional flight school as compared to an Aviation College or University program. What I don’t outline are the pros and cons of specific College and University Aviation Programs. The reason for this was two fold: first, there are a large number of different programs and outlining them in a book would take up a lot of space and second, the programs are often changing and the information in a book would be out of date before the book even hit the shelves. On this blog however, I will attempt to touch upon different attributes of some of the aviation programs at Canadian Colleges and Universities.
If you have a particular program that you would like information on, please send me an e-mail and I will attempt to find out information about that particular program. As well, I would very much appropriate any readers who have attended various College or University Aviation Programs to send me an e-mail and share your experiences about your particular college.
This entry will be about my Alma Mater – Seneca College.
Seneca College’s Aviation Program was the first Community College Aviation Program in Canada and the program has been around for almost 40 years. In 2003, after the Ontario Government permitted Colleges to grant degrees for certain programs, Seneca switched it’s 3 year Aviation and Flight Technology Diploma to a 4 year Bachelor’s of Applied Technology Degree. It is a subsidized program (so are Sault College and Confederation College), however, with the switch to a degree, the overall price has increased and although it is less expensive than most combined flight training and degree programs, it is more expensive than the other subsidized programs in Ontario.
Here are some things to consider:
Fleet: While it is debateable, in my opinion, Seneca has, by far, the best fleet of training aircraft in Canada. The fleet consists of 7 new Cessna 172s, at least one of which has a full screen Garmin moving map display, 5 F33A Beechcraft Bonanzas and 2 Beechcraft B58 Barons. There are also 4 sophisticated simulators - 1 each for the 172, Bonanza and Baron and a Level 5 Bombardier CRJ 200 Regional Jet Simulator. While I am not sure about the newer simulators, when I was there, students had unlimited free access to these simulators. Free access to these simulators not only allowed students to practice their IFR and emergency procedures as much as they wanted, 25 of these hours can be counted towards the ATPL.
The CRJ 200 Sim
Location: Seneca is the closest full college, subsidized program to Toronto. This can be a good thing and a bad thing for both student life and flight training.
Buttonville Airport - East of Hwy 404 and just North of Hwy 407
For Student Life, if a student is from the Toronto area, there is the potential to live at home and commute to school. This is what I did. While it made for not quite as fun a College experience, it definitely ended up being cheaper in the long run. However, for students from outside of Toronto or who don’t want to commute, living in or near Toronto can be quite expensive. As well, due to the location of Buttonville airport, it is necessary to have access to a car as public transit to the airport is almost non-existent.
For flight training, it can be very beneficial to get used to working in some of the busiest airspace in Canada. While it’s a lot to take in at first, getting comfortable dealing with lots of traffic, different radio frequencies and different types of air traffic can improve your multi-tasking skills. On the other hand, it can make for a more stressful initial learning experience. Sometimes dealing with lots of different traffic when you’re just starting out can be quite overwhelming. Training in areas with less traffic can allow you to focus on the basics without having to worry so much about busy airspace. Personally, I enjoyed flying in that area, but I know others who would have preferred flying in a less busy locale.
Program Academics: As mentioned, Seneca’s program is now a 4 year Applied Degree. It includes a Co-op requirement and students are also required to maintain a minimum C+ in each course in order to continue on. Unlike when I went through the program, there is no longer a ‘cut’ after the first year where a certain amount of students are required to withdraw if they were not in the top 37.
I am a strong proponent of having a degree. However, one thing to keep in mind with Seneca’s Degree is that because it is an Applied Degree, it may not be afforded the same respect as a traditional Bachelor’s Degree from a University. If someone decided that they wanted to continue on in their education and complete a Master’s Degree or a professional degree such as Teacher’s College or Law School, depending on the school they’re applying to, they may or may not be accepted. I’ve been hearing stories that while some Universities gladly accept an Applied Degree as equivalent to Degrees from a University, other Universities refuse to accept these degrees.
I have mixed views about the Co-op program. While getting experience in the industry is always beneficial, from what I’ve been hearing from current students, the program itself is not quite as well structured as one would hope and for the most part, students have to find the employment themselves. There have been a range of positions, many of which are simply working the ramp with local airlines. This can be good in the fact that you gain experience and connections, but in the context of flight program, it might be more beneficial to get the flying done first so you can get into the industry quicker.
However, having students work prior to graduating may help to decrease the assumption of the Seneca ‘attitude’ –more on that shortly.
Program Expenses and Time: Tuition expenses work out to roughly $10,000 a year. Tuition per semester is roughly $3500 and you also spend a summer semester flying. While $40,000 for a 4 year Degree is not cheap, compared to the regular cost of flight training or a degree program, this is a real bargain. However, when you compare this to the other two subsidized Ontario Colleges – Confederation and Sault College, their total costs are significantly lower due to the fact that they are still Diploma programs and the actual length of the program is shorter.
4 Years is can be a long time to do all your flight training. I felt that a 3 year program was still a little too long, adding on an extra year is another year that you could be flying and getting experience in the industry. There are many pilots who feel that the best thing to do is get your training done as quick as possible so you can be out in the industry getting experience. If someone rushed through their training in a year or two, then worked the ramp for 6 months to a year, they could still have 2000 hours in the same time it took to complete a 4 year degree.
I think having a degree, other education and a College experience are all very important things, but for someone who wants to get flying as quick as possible, Seneca is probably not the best choice.
Jobs: Overall, Seneca has a very good reputation in the industry in Canada. It is a well established, comprehensive program that airlines respect. Having a Seneca Degree will bode well for when you have enough experience to be applying to Airline jobs such as Air Canada. That being said, many of the other established Aviation Diploma programs in Canada are afforded that same respect. As well, having a Bachelor Degree in another discipline can also be valuable.
At the lower levels of the industry, a Seneca Degree will not necessarily help you get a job. In fact, there are a number of ‘bush’ types who feel that Seneca graduates are all ‘city kids’ who don’t know how to do a solid day’s work. Some graduates with an attitude have tainted the reputation. While I will be the first to admit that I have met a few grads who think that they are God’s gift to aviation, I’ve also met numerous other pilots (not from Seneca) who have that same attitude. The vast majority of my classmates and other Seneca grads I’ve met have been awesome folks. If you do graduate from Seneca, just be aware that you may need to go that extra step to prove that you’re not a jerk and you can put in a good day’s work.
The fact that Seneca’s program has been around for so long means that it has a lot of alumni working at many different airlines across Canada and the World. Having this type of networking possibilities can be very beneficial.
Finally, Air Canada Jazz tried a pilot program last year where top grads from Seneca and a number of other colleges were interviewed and successful candidates were offered spots in ground schools for potential First Officer positions. This program is not without controversy and it remains to be seen if it will be successful.
Conclusion: I enjoyed my time at Seneca and they really do have a great program. The fleet is great! In fact, you likely won’t fly on such nice and well maintained planes for a number of years when you actually start working! For students that want a degree, want to live near Toronto and want to get first rate flight training, Seneca is a great choice!