From airline pilot to TSB investigator – A seamless transition
30 January 2017
Posted by Brian Stokes
It all began in the summer of 1980 in Courtenay, B.C. when my grandfather introduced his 7-year-old grandson to the wonders of flight through model airplanes. I spent the rest of the summer flying the little wooden aircraft around in circles and my love of flying was born. The next few years were spent dreaming of becoming an Air Force pilot and on my 12th birthday, I joined the Royal Canadian Air Cadets. Unfortunately, my dreams of an Air Force career were cut short by a change for the worse in my vision when I was a teenager. However, my passion for flying was still very much alive, so I quickly decided on a career in commercial aviation. I like to say that generations of kids crowded along an airport fence watching planes come and go have never really grown up. They became pilots instead.
I was fortunate to have a diverse aviation career, beginning in 1992 at Confederation College in Thunder Bay, Ontario where I attended the Aviation Flight Management program. Graduating in 1994 with a fresh commercial pilot's license and a float endorsement, I spent the next several years in Northwestern Ontario flying a variety of aircraft on floats. I enjoyed the challenge and variety of experience that bush flying afforded, but after several years of being laid off each winter during the off season, I was seeking something more permanent.
In 1997, after completing my instrument rating, I joined Wasaya Airlines in Pickle Lake, Ontario, and later landed a job in Toronto with Air Georgian as a pilot. On my days off and evenings, I expanded my knowledge by working as a maintenance engineer apprentice on the same aircraft I flew as a pilot.
In 2003, I joined Jetsgo Airlines and was fortunate enough to rapidly be promoted to Captain. Unfortunately, after two years, the company declared bankruptcy. Along with a lot of my colleagues, I packed my bags and went to the Middle East where I got to fly with Gulf Air and Emirates Airlines.
Moving to the Middle East required a period of cultural adjustment, but I quickly settled into the expat life with my Canadian colleagues. Flying for Emirates gave me the opportunity to explore much of the world. While living in Dubai, I met my future wife. We got married in 2010 and moved back to Canada to raise our children. During that period, I flew for Canadian North Airlines and Sunwing, where many of my former friends and colleagues had found a home. I loved flying the B737 for Sunwing, but with a growing young family, the amount of time spent on the road was beginning to wear.
After spending more than 23 years of my life as an airline pilot, I decided to tackle a new challenge and joined the ranks of the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) Air Branch as a Senior Investigator. Leaving my life as a pilot was a very difficult decision to make and I would be lying if I told you that I don't miss flying. No pilot will ever forget the moment of his first solo flight; it's an everlasting memory. However, as the father of three young children I wanted to be able to spend more time at home with my family. Joining the TSB made perfect sense because the senior investigator position offered the stability I was looking for, while enabling me to effect change in the aviation industry.
Working for the TSB is quite different from what I used to do, but I am having no problems adapting to my new role. Nowadays, I am more involved with the smaller aircraft of general aviation than I was as an airline pilot, but my varied experiences combined with my aircraft maintenance engineer background have allowed me to hit the ground running.
Since joining the TSB I have participated in several investigations and each one provides an opportunity to advance aviation safety in Canada, a challenge that I relish.
Brian Stokes comes to the TSB with over 20 years of experience in the aviation industry, where he worked as a pilot and aircraft maintenance engineer. He holds an Airline Transport Pilot's license with over 10 000 hours of flight time and a diploma in Aviation Flight Management from Confederation College. In his spare time, the father of three enjoys working on cars, scuba diving and woodworking.
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