Professional transition

What do pilots have in common with doctors and lawyers? Not enough, according to the College of Professional Pilots of Canada (CPPC).

One of the biggest things that currently sets pilots apart is the lack of a self-governing body.  In fact, pilots don’t even have a universally-recognized code of conduct, which is one of the hallmarks of “professional” status.

The CPPC aims to change all that by creating a self-governing body for professional fixed- and rotary-wing pilots in Canada, similar to those that govern doctors, lawyers, engineers and numerous other professions. 


The Ottawa-based College was first conceived in 2009 by a group of pilots from across the industry, who wanted to discuss where the profession was headed. Their motivation was two-fold.

First, “an amazing evolution has taken place in the almost century of commercial flight, moving from a military-based infrastructure to the current era of downloaded responsibility and things like SMS,” said current CPPC president, Tom Machum. The pilots wanted to chart a course for their professional future. 

But there was a second factor that eventually led to the establishment of the College. In 2007, a Winnipeg, Man., pilot was involved in an accident with a passenger fatality, and had been subsequently convicted of criminal negligence.  That conviction became the catalyst for the CPPC’s first meeting. 

“This had never happened in Canada before,” explained David Coles, past CPPC president and current treasurer. “In fact, it was something one would only expect in a Third World country, and is absolutely contrary to maintaining an open and resilient safety culture. We began to research how other professions handled these types of incidents, and it became clear that our best route forward was attempting to transition our profession into a self-governing one.”

So, in 2009, the founding group of pilots registered the College as a not-for-profit organization and formed a board of directors. In the years that followed, the founders have worked to spread the word about the College to pilots, industry, associations and the government. They also looked into potential services that the College could provide right away, such as mentoring programs, group health care, life, disability and loss-of-licence insurance. 

On Aug. 8, 2012, after three years of organization and development, the College launched a website and officially opened its doors to new members. 

By the end of 2012, the CPPC had nearly 1,000 members. There are currently about 24,000 Canadian commercial and airline transport pilots. 

The CPPC’s eventual goal is for every pilot to be a member of the College and, in partnership with the government and other stakeholders, to pass a private members bill that would either amend the Aeronautics Act or be stand-alone legislation that would allow the College to become self-governing. 


It’s a complicated and ambitious goal that will take many years to achieve, but Machum’s immediate role will be to lead the CPPC out of its infancy and into democracy.  The current board is essentially self-appointed, and considers itself responsible for developing the infrastructure required to move forward, rather than making decisions on behalf of all pilots.

“At the end of the first year of membership enrollments, or when we reach 8,000 members, should this occur sooner, the current board will step down and national elections will be held to create the first democratically-elected board of the College,” said Machum. 

Once elected, the new board will be tasked with refining the CPPC vision and producing models for best practices, including reference materials for everything from the maintenance of professional standards to the scientific examination of flight operations and human performance.

The CPPC also hopes to one day provide personal support programs and critical incident response protocols, as well as financial aid, scholarships and bursaries to encourage new pilots.



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