So you want to train at Boundary Bay...

One day my family was gathered around and my mother announced her idea for me to get my pilot’s license so I could fly her around. I laughed then but now that I’m a private pilot I guess she’s laughing?

I started poking around on YouTube and reddit and became fascinated in the topic and ended up being able to pursue it as a hobby. It took me one year and about 70 hours of flight time, some heartache, some frustration and some really amazing moments. It’s been quite a journey and it feels like it’s just the beginning. I wanted to detail my experience for others to learn from as well as just to relive it all.

Today marks the day I became a Private Pilot and in my inbox today I see that FlightChops passed his INRAT exam which made me feel somehow bound to this fellow Canadian who I’ve watched progress through so many journeys.

This is quite a long blog so here’s a table of contents:

Hope Mountains

Fleets and Mountains

Private Pilot License

I described to my friend that getting my private pilot’s license was like an epic quest from a video game, collecting all the pieces (written, skills, ground school) was one of the most trying things I’ve ever done in my life. Can’t imagine what commercial and ATPL pilots have to go through.

I began my training with a leg up like most people who were quite interested before they began training. I had read a lot of things, I had listened to a lot of ATC, I knew how to run a checklist from X-Plane. I was ready. I took a familiarity flight with my then-girlfriend now-wife (yay me) and it was really cool. The instructor who I later found out is kind of a hardass was quite surprised it was my first time in a plane which gave me a huge boost of confidence. I was clearly ready.

I was not ready. Trying to do it all by myself; take-off, landing, radio, all the things the fam flight instructor had done for me turned out to be quite a burden! I remember being so terrified of pressing the microphone button to talk on the radio for fear of making a mistake that my instructor actually had to tell me to “just do it already” after some exhasperated sighs. I quickly slid into a comfort zone with these basics but little did I know that the challenges had not even begun to begin.

Note on Airsickness: Like many private pilots at the beginning, I suffer from some fairly mild airsickness. I noticed that when I got out of the plane on to the ground and back into my car I just felt “gross”. That’s the best way I can describe it. The feeling persists for an hour or so and then it’s gone. After I haven’t flown in a while I’ll notice it after I land. But during my regular training it wasn’t an issue you really do get used to it as people suggest.

Magic Clouds

Some few with some crazy halos

The fear of spinning

I had seen videos on YouTube including this semi-famous one about spins and had built myself up to it a lot. However I had also built up spins in my head a lot. My instructor and I went up and did airwork together for the first time. He showed me stalls and they were mundane and pretty easy to deal with. He showed me power-on stalls and whoa! What was that? Then we added a wing drop and my headset came right off.

This was no ordinary manoeuver I had decided. This was serious business. I felt queasy to boot. My instructor asked: “Are you ready to try a spin?” and I said “No, no I’m really not okay. Can we do it next time?”. He insisted but I insisted harder. In the end we returned without trying a spin and it was probably one of the worst things I did during my training.

I began losing sleep over it, I would get extremely stressed thinking about it. That feeling in the power-on wing drop stall haunted me; if it was that bad how bad would an actual spin be?? I created a reddit burner account to talk about my fears of this day. I talked to my wife about how scared I was of them.

There were two pieces of advice that really helped me overcome this.

  1. Fasten your seatbelt tight. If the seatbelt is loose you feel those negative Gs a lot worse.
  2. Watch your stress level, I notice that when I’m flying and I’m stressed I’ll have my stomach wound up tight and I think this contributes a lot to my airsickness. Relax relax relax.

When I went up I remember being tense just in our Dispatch area talking to my instructor about it. I calmed myself down, remembered to enter a good state of mind etc. etc. I kind of think he enjoyed seeing my terror. At Boundary Bay we have a 15 minute flight just to get to the practice area so I had plenty of time to wind myself up. That day there was some good winds and turbulence knocking me around and that really messed up my state of mind. Not that I was scared of it, but it wasn’t in my picture for how I was going to deal with this challenge.

He showed me the spin.


I almost guarantee you we were on the cusp of the incipient stage of the spin in our previous wing drop stalls. I worried over nothing almost. It still wasn’t the greatest thing in the world, but holy crap did I stress and worry for no good reason. I really should have just let him show me the spin that first day!


The next challenge in my PPL was landing. Every pilot has trouble with landing at some stage in their piloting careers it seems. Some people have no trouble and then “forget” and start making craters in the pavement. Some people have trouble learning from the beginning. I remember one of my friends I made at that school told me his landings were rubbish until he found out that his sight picture was all messed up because he was short, and that after he flew with another instructor who suggested using a pillow he seemed to be able to do way better.

For me personally the key is don’t flare. Just don’t, don’t even think of the word. It’s a terrible word full of action and Tom Cruise ripping the control column backward. To me landing is just cruise attitude, and then just hold it off the ground. If I remember to do that, I almost always get those nice squeaker landings. If I forget I get runway repair bills (jk). I also watched the Rob Machado video on timing the flare cruise which helped a lot.

Hope Mountains

Reward for doing the 150nm cross country

Ultimate Failure

The rest of my training seems somewhat uneventful. I did well at mostly everything and picked stuff up quickly. In December I got a sign off for a flight test and then weather and then holidays wound up putting me back a ways. It took me two flights in January to re-prepare for the flight test and then after the flight test was cancelled three times in a row I took two more flights for good measure to ensure I was ready.

The day of the flight test had me in the highest winds I’d ever been in (19kt) with a slight cross-wind. The days I had trained were largely windless (<5kt). I remembered my taxi inputs but forgot where the wind was, there was some marks off. We took off and everything was great. Flew into the skies, did one circuit and we were off to do other things. The examiner was very kind and was pretty bored with my flying which I consider to be a good thing. Forced and Precautionary went fairly well. Fire simulations went well.

When we got back to the airport I touched down expecting a handshake and to put a big grin on my face. But then he said:

“I cannot sign you off before I see you correct your major error.”

I had used aileron to counteract the cross-wind on take-off. This is considered a major error. You can smack a wing, in a twin you can smack an engine. It’s just horrible form.

The examiner told me that it was his responsibility to ensure that I was a safe pilot so that when I took my friends up somewhere everyone was safe. I would have to complete one circuit where I showed him that I had corrected the error. In a way I was seriously depressed about the result.

The next day as I evaluated the results in my mind again, and thought about what he said I determined that I was actually lucky to have failed that exam in that way. Not only was the re-test trivial (and went fine by the way) but he may have actually saved my life in this universe where in a parallel universe where I never learned this technique properly I may have died. I told him after the partial flight test success:

“I want to thank you, not for passing me, but for failing me. I’m really grateful and thanks for doing your job correctly so that us private pilots are as safe as we can be.”

Passing felt fairly anti-climactic since it was only one circuit I felt it was fairly guaranteed. But it was still a great feeling to have passed.

Lessons Learned

While getting my PPL a few things burned me.

  1. Fly continuously and as much as you can

    One thing that really hampered me during my training was that I only flew 3 days a week for a time. This slowed me down considerably when compared with my peers. It’s also especially bad because when your 3 days get cancelled other students still have 2-4 backup days they can continue to fly in, and rebooking in the summer at a busy flight school last-minute is not an option.

    If I had been flying 5 days a week then the training never would have dragged on until the winter months which in Vancouver are cancel-city, you can barely get a flight in.

  2. Keep accurate records of every flight you do AND your ground schooling

    Although I managed to keep good care of my flight records themselves I neglected to keep any record at all of my ground schooling. This would later come back to bite me as the school’s records seemed to be incomplete. It was just more paperwork and a little bit of extra help from my instructor at the end but it did cause unnecessary stress and visitations of topics I had already covered.

Boundary Bay Airport (CZBB)

I really liked training at this airport. For me it was a lot of fun and I’d encourage people to come here generally speaking.

What are you?

What even are you??!


Lots of facilities and flight schools

There’s everything from avionics stores to a real airport with a restaurant. There’s many flight schools to choose from and even an area for hangars where many pilots keep their private planes. I had to buy maps from a different school once because our dispatch had run out, but the fact that I could just stroll across the street and do so was great!

Great controllers

I love the controllers here. They are very student friendly. Just do your best and talk to them! Don’t miss their calls, follow instructions and try to help them out and they’ll be the nicest people in the world to you. I’ve asked them for all kinds of favors from light signals to crosswind runways and they almost always help me out (when possible).

Want to get in big trouble? Don’t answer their calls. Or call them over greenhouses in Abbotsford. If you do decide to do these things wait until I’m on freqency because when ATC gets mad at people it’s just great comedy for me (so long as nothing dangerous is occurring).

Busy airspace

Boundary Bay in terms of volume is supposedly the second busiest airport in Canada (thanks to having some 5 flight schools or so plus charters and private planes flying in and out). The frequency is often congested and difficult to get a word in. The controllers are often talking to a lot of planes at once. You have to keep your eyes peeled like crazy. And this extends all the way from Boundary Bay to the practice areas where there are even MORE planes because Pitt/Langley/Abbotsford schools go there too!

This is starting to sound like a negative but to me it’s a huge positive. I feel like I could fly anywhere in the world comfortably because of my experience in this insane setting. I know how to look for traffic, I know how to communicate well with ATC and other planes. To me this was the perfect place to learn.

Vancouver Downtown

Vancouver Downtown


The George Massey Tunnel

I would rather do spins all day every day than go through this god *@!#& tunnel one more time in my life. I HATE this tunnel. It made me late several times because of just general congestion or sometimes accidents. You really have to plan your life around it which is incredibly frustrating. I’m usually a fairly chill guy but I have literally screamed at the top of my lungs at people cutting me off and merging when they shouldn’t etc. One guy even wanted to stop his car and “discuss” things but I just drove past.

I have daydreamed a lot of dropping a pile of cones or something in the lane with the yellow “GET THE @!#&# OVER” arrow so people understand that it’s not actually cool to just continue driving in that lane, merge in NOW. It’s not made so you can just rip past the huge line of cars on your right assh@#*.

So that all said, here are some tips for dealing with it:

Between 11:00-1:30 going either way is totally fine. Try and book your flights at 11-12 if you’re coming from the north. Going north you really want to leave before they activate counterflow so leaving by 2pm is a great bet.

Counterflow is key. Look at the website for the times, whenever counterflow is close to activating or is activated you’re going to have a bad time (even if it favors the direction you’re going, there’s a reason it’s active). Whatever you do do NOT go South around 2:00pm, it’s an absolute disaster.

If you can use the HOV and carpool, do so. This almost eliminates the pain that is the tunnel because it gets you right to the front of the merging lines which is where all the slowdowns and congestion truly occurs.

The practice area is FAR

The examiner for my flight test kept telling me I was a very low time pilot all things considered. One of those things I had never considered is that the practice area is ~22nm away which means you have a solid 15 minutes of straight and level to and from. That’s 30 minutes of your booking just GETTING to the place where you’re going to do most of your exercises.

This adds a significant cost to training at Boundary Bay and should probably not be overlooked. Pitt Meadows and Langley are much closer to these practice areas - food for thought.

Pitt Practice Area

Pitt Meadows Practice Area

Busy airspace

Sometimes you have to wait for circuits for quite some time. Sometimes you have to wait for departures a short time but it’s never that bad if you’re not doing circuits.

Professional Flight Center - Pro IFR

I researched quite a bit when I chose a school at Boundary Bay. I watched US Sport Aircraft’s video on choosing a flight school which was good and Friendly Skies Film’s 5 Ways Flight Schools cheat students which was also quite good. Did some poking around for prices and tried to squeeze as much information out of students at the school as well as the dispatchers on the phones.

This was the school that I chose. I’m glad I chose it and have no regrets. They’re said to have a very excellent IFR program and the advice I got when I was beginning was “PPL is the same everywhere” which obviously isn’t completely true but it seemed true enough for me to care less about where I did that.

In a nutshell these guys remind me of the underdogs at the big tournament at the end of a movie. They look a bit scrappy on the outside, but they have real heart and they know what they’re doing. Underestimate them and they’ll blow you out of the water. A very good school by my estimation.

Note: Technically the name is Professional Flight Center but nobody seems to really call it that outside the books because the acronym is PFC which conflicts with the acronym of another well known flight school there. People refer to it as Pro and their airplanes and logo all say Pro still.

Training at Pro

This school is a pilot factory. It’s what they do. They have no focus on casual or hobbyists but I did meet a few there anyway, they followed the same decision making process I did and ended up there. If you’d like to rent after you’re done you probably want to go elsewhere. The training seemed to reflect that they’re building pilots of high caliber for the airlines which did seem very good.

They have a rigorous curriculum and the instructors stick to it by the letter pretty well. That means you will not be close to 17 hours of dual when you’re done your PPL, and after having gone through the training I can only look at the Transport Canada minimum of 17 hours dual and scoff. I have that number a few times over and still feel I need hundreds more before I could call myself an expert. It’s really just a license to learn!

There are quite a few foreign students and that makes things quite diverse. I made friends from all kinds of different countries and even some Koreans (I speak Korean fairly well so that’s always fun). It doesn’t mean much it’s just something I noticed in contrast to other schools which were predominantly local Canadians.


I mentioned that the school is a pilot factory and one of the downsides of this is that there are a few of the instructors who are just that, pilots that are waiting to get out of being a teacher and go do what they’re training to do.

Because of this I had 4 instructors during my time there. Each time I lost an instructor it meant a lot of turnover in my bookings because the new instructor couldn’t always accomodate my existing bookings and rescheduling was pretty much a nope because of how packed the schedule was.

This was obviously uncool but I liked to look at the bright side, because I got to fly with a myriad of instructors not only did I see a lot of different teaching styles and skills. But I got great feedback that focused on different areas depending on the instructor. Flying with many different instructors to me was a really great experience and I’d encourage you to take some flights with other instructors than your primary if you can.

Each instructor I had was very knowledgeable, had incredible control of the aircraft (I’m still working on getting as good as they are!) and were pretty invested in helping me do well. They were all friendly and I got along with all of them quite well. Overall excellent.

For supervisory flights etc. I had a chance to fly with the teachers-for-life high level CFIs at the school, and this was another experience altogether. Lots of wise tips from people with huge levels of knowledge. I really enjoyed flying with them and if I continue training I’d like to do more of that too.

I love the instructors at Pro, they are awesome. If you’re a budding PPL I hope one day you get to fly with them and have as much fun learning with them as I did.


The maintenance team needs a shout-out. Although I only ever dealt with the head mechanic they seem really good. They take great care of the planes and seem very by-the-book. I had planes pulled from under me for being low on hours which to me is an extremely nice way to have a lesson canceled because you know they’re doing their job well. Although there’s some deferred panel cracking in some of the planes the critical pieces in all the planes work very well.

Ground School

One of the main reasons I chose this school was because I had visited another school and did just a ground school lesson with them (just a free sit-in) and the instructor didn’t show and a sub had to be contacted last minute and he was an hour late in the end. The lesson itself was good but mainly a lecturing style. I learned that there was no set teacher and that they rotated constantly (hence the possible confusion). Which meant that school could have good and bad ground school weeks.

Contrast this to Pro where I entered and the main class ground school teacher was absolutely fantastic. Not only did they know how to teach and manage the classroom properly (asking questions to quiet students or getting on students that were interrupting the class) but there was a passion for it you could see. I knew right then that I’d made my choice. Later as I said the recording of this ground school left a bit to be desired but that would never stop me from recommending the ground school here. Just keep good records yourself as well! Don’t be shy to photograph the ground school check-in sheet just in case.


The schedule in the summer is absolutely packed. While I don’t think they overextend their capacity and take too many students, they definitely ride the edge! Make sure you’re booking 30 days in advance in order to get the time slots you want or you’ll be dealing with the tunnel traffic!

They have an online booking system that’s quite good and they’re moving even more of their processes over to that system so the record keeping of flights and ground briefs etc. is going to become even better.

What’s Next?

Who knows! For now I’m just going to go out and build some PIC time! Maybe think about a night rating. All I know is I’m excited to use it!

Insane Sunset

Beautiful Sunset on this leg of my journey