SAULT STE. MARIE -- The Sault College Aviation program is expanding its fleet of aircraft. And, after not taking any new students last fall, the program is gearing up for a full intake this year.

However, the fate of the Sault Airport’s air traffic control tower remains uncertain.

One of the new aircraft being added to the college’s fleet is a new, twin-engine Piper Seminole, which college officials say is a state-of-the-art machine.

“It’s our most advanced aircraft with highly sophisticated avionics, (to) expose our students to state-of-the art avionics,” said Ron Common, president of Sault College.

The college’s aviation program is set to welcome 95 new students this coming fall, and this comes as the Sault Airport’s control tower finds itself in the middle of a service review by NAV Canada.

Flight instruction

College officials said flight instruction makes up the majority of aircraft movement at the airport.

“The college alone has about 45,000 movements in terms of our aircraft,” said David Orazietti, dean of aviation at Sault College. “And we’re north of 60,000 as a tower, once the commercial traffic starts again.”

Orazietti said student pilots need the guidance of a fully staffed air traffic control tower. Terry Bos, CEO of the Sault Ste Marie Airport, agrees.

“We’re going to need a tower in order to be able to have them all flying at once,” Bos said. “And I’m sure the college wants to fly as much as we want to see them fly, and the more traffic there is here, the better it is.”

Bos said the expansion of Sault College’s Aviation Program strengthens the case for keeping the Sault’s air traffic control tower staffed.

Meantime, NAV Canada’s service review of the tower could be completed next month.