Our Story

After dreaming of flying for almost 50 years, I finally took the plunge and decided to realize my childhood dream. My experience was a mixed bag of good and bad. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely enjoyed flying and getting my license; but there were so many things that could be improved and could have made the entire experience more enjoyable, faster, and ultimately less costly. There were so many inefficiencies, lack of professionalism, and particularly a lack of customer service, lack of customer appreciation, and lack of concern for the customer. It was those experiences and my desire to create a better flying experience for others (including my children who want to fly) from which the Calgary-Okotoks Flying School was born.

Before I began my training, I talked to pilots, and they all said the same thing: The best way to learn, the most cost effective way to get your license, is to get your training completed as quickly as possible by flying as many hours a day as often as you can, so that you don’t “forget” what you learned and have to relearn it. So, I called the schools and tried to book 4 hours of instruction a day, every day. I discovered that is something the schools just aren’t set up to do – its unusual, and they don’t know how to handle that. One school outright refused to train me that intensively. Another was willing, so I signed with them; but soon the reality of their training methods and business destroyed my plan.

Sure, they would let me book 2 or 3 training slots a day, but they would not combine even 2 of those lessons together, meaning, we could not take off and do 2 hours of training in the air. Each 1 hour training slot was a 2 hour booking slot. And each training slot required we take off, go to the practice area and return to the airport 1 hour later. Once we were back on the ground, we could exit the aircraft, and then start our second lesson. Well, the reality of flying out of an airport located in busy controlled class C airspace, is that you often face long waits for take-off and landing, followed by 20 minutes to fly to and from the practice area before I could start my training each lesson. We are in Calgary airspace and can’t practice here – we have to go 20 minutes away. So, basically, my 2 hours of flying time each day translated into at most only 1 hour of actual practice.  This meant I would really require much more than the 45 hours required by Transport Canada – that is 45 hours of practice, not 45 hours of sitting waiting for takeoff, or 45 hours of level flight to and from the practice area.

The next blow to my plan was that my instructor got a job flying for Jazz and quit. (The same thing happened with my fourth instructor. During my time at the school, 5 instructors quit – it was a revolving door!) I was happy for him, but now the month of lessons I had booked with him 3 or 4 months in advance were useless. I had to find a new instructor and wait at the back of the queue in order to book replacement flying time. So, now I was left trying to book 1 or 2 lessons a week several weeks (or even months) down the road with whatever instructor I could find who had an occasional free spot. So rather than finishing in 1-2 months as originally planned and booked, it was a 6 month ordeal, which, according to my instructors, was pretty fast! (are you kidding me???). Turns out that my experience was pretty typical, and actually faster than most.

Then there were the lessons cancelled by the instructor. Many times the weather looked questionable a few hours before my flight time, but this is Alberta: wait 5 min and the weather will change. But, the instructor would call and cancel the lesson as they were not willing to wait and see if the weather would improve - presumably they didn’t want to waste their day hoping the weather would improve and then not get to fly. More times than I can count, the weather turned for the better and I missed out on a perfectly beautiful flying day, and thus missed out on a lesson I had waited weeks to book and now would have to wait weeks to rebook. Not to mention the lessons cancelled by the instructor for personal reasons (sick, etc.) – just another hard fought lesson booking gone, leading to more and more delays and ultimately costing me more money.

And then there was the inconsistency in training from one instructor to another. I would be taught one thing, only to be reprimanded by another instructor and have to relearn it “their way”.

Overall, it was more like dealing with a bureaucracy than a business interested in providing a quality product coupled with a great customer experience. It was a “one size fits all” experience.

Eventually, I was able to book all my hours, pass my written exam (with 95%) and pass my flight test. And all told, rather than the approx. $9000 every school quotes you based on the 45 hours required by Transport Canada, it cost me over $20,000 (and I was one of the faster students).

I want to create a company that helps people enjoy and afford to fly after they get their license. We are here to create a great aviation environment and culture for current and past students.

So now what, now that I have a license? Well, let’s rent a plane and fly places! Let’s explore this country by air! Can’t afford to – the flying schools want a minimum of 3 or 5 hours of flight time each day you have the plane. So, if I want to fly to Kelowna for 5 days, they will bill me for 15-25 hours at $160 per hour. But it’s only a 6 hour round flight to Kelowna and back. So, what should be a fun and affordable $960 trip, the flying school turns into a $2200-4000 experience. So, unless you are fortunate to own your own plane, all you can do is take a plane and fly around Calgary, which gets real old, real fast.

But despite all that, I loved flying and still do and wanted to “fix” the industry and the experience. I wanted to create a company and environment that makes flying fun, accessible and affordable for EVERYONE, not just the rich. I want to create a company that helps people enjoy and afford to fly after they get their license. We are here to create a great aviation environment and culture for current and past students. We have tried hard to create a school that provides:

  • Affordability
  • Accessibility
  • Opportunity to enjoy aviation for a lifetime!

I have 2 daughters who both want to get their pilot licenses (age 11 and 24). I want them to have the experience I never had. I want them to have the opportunity to enjoy this awesome world of aviation for their entire lives.

…Welcome to Calgary-Okotoks Flying School. Where we make flying fun again. Come fly with us and discover the amazing world of aviation.

Call me anytime to learn more, find out how we are different, and discuss if this is the place for you.

Clear skies!

Tim Ulmer,
Founder