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COPA for Kids introduces youth to aviation

Program enriched by Shoal Lake Flying Club with pilots volunteering time and aircraft

With a top-notch airport nearby, it’s a common occurrence to hear the roar of planes overhead the community of Shoal Lake. Such was the case in July, as pilots helped young passengers take flight as part of the COPA for Kids program, where youth, ages eight to 17 signed up for a free 20- to 25-minute flight.

“It’s great to share the cockpit with kids,” said pilot Kevin Nickel, who often has his daughter Grace in the seat next to him on flights.

Dennis Schoonbaert, president of the Shoal Lake Flying Club, was one of the six area pilots involved in the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association (COPA) to volunteer their time and aircraft this year. Along with him and Nickel were pilots Ken Pierce, Russ Hamilton, Derek Jenkins, and Thomas Aguero.

COPA was founded in 1952 to speak as the unified voice for general aviation in Canada, representing close to 16,000 members in every province and territory. Dating back to 1964, the COPA Flights are an essential component to the success of the COPA for Kids program, which introduces over 3,000 Canadian children to general aviation each year.

As parents watched, children learned about the vast array of aviation career opportunities as they waited for their turn to take to the sky. It’s anticipated that there will be a huge demand for pilots in the near future, as many are at or nearing retirement age.

For 10-year-old Jacob Grenier, who experienced his first flight on a small plane, involvement was about a passion for flying. Joining him on a flight were Chase Myhill, and fellow Shoal Lake schoolmate, Debra Sytnyk.

“That was awesome,” echoed across the tarmac, as youth climbed out of their designated aircraft.

“We will be sure to register earlier next year for the COPA for Kids program, as it’s not hard to tell that Debra loved it,” said her mom, Helen Sytnyk.

There was also a demonstration of what it takes to be a spray plane pilot, with Diego Perez at the controls, as the Shoal Lake Airport is home to Prairie Dusters, owned and operated by Randy and Janet Sandstrom of Birtle.

Aviators are not born, they are inspired by other aviators, as aviation is exciting and vital to our nation’s future. Thanks to the COPA for Kids program, the future may hold additional pilots becoming a part of the Shoal Lake Flying Club.

In remembrance of their son, Brad, who was killed in a small plane accident two years ago, parents Dean and Carla Ashcroft fully stand behind his goals, the importance of the Shoal Lake Flying Club to youth, and Kids Flights held over the past 20 years under the Young Eagles and COPA programs. Experiences through flight gave him and many more like him a new perspective on the world and life in general, as pilots are simply ordinary individuals with special skills developed through training.

Go to the COPA for Kids website for more information on this event held in July.

At Shoal Lake, pre-registration is required by calling the Yellowhead Leisure Services at 204-759-2629 as registration forms must be signed by a parent/legal guardian.

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