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Oak Bay student among those high on aviation possibilities

Greater Victoria School District helps kids fly with aviation and design program

Buzzing over the West Coast in a float plane is just one part of Kaelyn Bonner’s childhood that inflames her love of flight. Now a Grade 11 student at Oak Bay High, she’s among students soaring on southern Vancouver Island as part of the Aviation and Design program.

Based out of Mount Douglas secondary since 2015, the program is open to all students in the Greater Victoria School District. The goal is to provide pathways of interest and show the diversity of options available in a field, explained Lindsay Johnson, district administrator responsible for careers.

Some kids come in wanting to be engineers, others are interested in mechanics and pilots.

This year there are students from Esquimalt, Spectrum and Victoria high schools in the program, peers with a common interest Bonner said she wouldn’t have otherwise met. Stepping away from her home community and classmates for a semester was hard at first, but as the group got more involved, working and learning together every day as a cohort, they became like family, she said.

The program delves into all aspects of aviation through partnerships with other community groups and businesses. For example, students learn about fabricating through partnership with renowned builder Viking Air in North Saanich. It’s not unusual for students to earn employment after completing the program.

First, the cohort is fully immersed in ground school at the Victoria Flying Club at the Victoria International Airport, then they take a discovery flight alongside local pilots. The students go up in twos, taking turns copiloting on a round trip flight to Qualicum Beach.

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“I loved every second of it. I loved flying and doing it on my own,” Bonner said.

Both Johnson and Bonner hold high praise for instructor John Sumner, who Bonner also hails as a proponent of women in aviation. She and and Oak Bay High classmate Katherine Lee are two of five girls in the class of 16.

“I hope more women and girls will get into aviation, because it’s a really cool career. Everyone I’ve met has been so supportive,” Bonner said.

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The air is a bit of a family calling for Bonner. Her mother had a licence to fly before she could legally drive. And her parents are inbound tour operators who showcase the region to guests from around the world, which led to that first floatplane flight she recalls fondly. At 10, she knew being a pilot was something she wanted to do by 20 – whether it became a career or not.

She’s a bit of a planner.

“My end goal, my dream, is to get my float plane licence. The first step to that is getting your private pilot licence,” Bonner said.

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But another key element in her plan is a business degree, in part a response to a speaker who came into the class.

He told them his commercial piloting wasn’t fulfilling his monetary needs, so he quit, went into accounting and started his own small aircraft business. “He was still pursuing his dream while also making his money,” Bonner said.

She plans to pursue a business degree at the University of Victoria.