Distinguished Alumni Award Recipient: Making Flying Safer | Work of Arts
Distinguished Alumni Award Recipient: Making Flying Safer | Work of Arts

Distinguished Alumni Award Recipient: Making Flying Safer

by | September 13, 2016
Photography by John Ulan
Virgil Moshansky's unprecedented examination of the aviation system saved countless lives and forever changed aircraft safety

As we look forward to Alumni Weekend (Sept 22-25, 2016), the Faculty of Arts is proud to share the stories of our inspiring alumni award winners!

 

Distinguished Alumni Award Recipient, Virgil P. Moshansky at his Calgary home, on Friday, June 17, 2016. Photo credit - John Ulan

Distinguished Alumni Award Recipient, Virgil P. Moshansky at his Calgary home, on Friday, June 17, 2016.
Photo credit – John Ulan

At 16 years old, Virgil Moshansky (’51 BA, ’54 LLB) was busy typing up land transfers for his notary father, Peter, a farmer and entrepreneur. It was an early and immersive beginning to Moshansky’s legal career.

As a high school student in Lamont, Alta., he found his other passion: aviation. He was an air cadet during the Second World War and spent summers at Royal Canadian Air Force camps, flying in various aircraft and feeding his hunger for aviation.

At the U of A, Moshansky’s friends called him a bookworm, and he followed up an arts degree with law school. When he articled at an Edmonton law firm, his focus was liability and personal injury. It was an interest that would carry him into a future of life-changing work.

A move to Vegreville, Alta., brought three terms as mayor of the town. Moshansky initiated many changes, including the construction of an airport. As a private pilot and aircraft owner since 1965, he understood the importance of an airport for the town. He even flew between his office and courtrooms across the province in his aircraft, or his “time machine,” as he called it.

Over the years, Moshansky was twice asked to serve on the Supreme Court of Alberta, but he declined because of his work as a lawyer and mayor. In 1976, the federal government called again and he accepted. After 21 years in Vegreville, he and his wife, June, moved to Calgary, where he served on the bench for 28 years.

In 1989 the government came calling again. On March 10 of that year, Air Ontario Flight 1363 crashed 15 seconds after taking off from Dryden Regional Airport. Moshansky was appointed to head the commission of inquiry into the causes of the Fokker F-28 crash that killed 24 people.

He assembled a team that spent three years conducting what has been called the most exhaustive aviation system investigation ever attempted. Insisting the inquiry be conducted in the open, he probed the impact of human factors throughout the aviation system. The investigation resulted in a 2,000-page final report with 191 recommendations. The report uncovered a lack of proper de-icing fluids and procedures, which contributed to the Dryden crash. Transport Canada and regulatory authorities worldwide adopted Moshansky’s recommendations, making revolutionary changes to aircraft de-icing and saving countless lives.

“It was a monumental experience,” says Moshansky, who, among many honours, received the Order of Canada in 2005 and was elected a fellow of the U.K. Royal Aeronautical Society in 2007.

Soon after the investigation began, he lost his brother in a plane crash near Yellowknife, N.W.T. “If I needed any incentive to do a thorough investigation in the Dryden inquiry, I got it,” he says.

Helping people is in Moshansky’s blood. He has spent much of his time volunteering for community, civic and aviation safety organizations. He is a life member of the Vegreville Lions Club and a past international director of Lions International.

“I like to help people as much as I can,” he says. “It’s important.”

 

First published in the Autumn 2016 issue of New Trail, the U of A’s alumni magazine.


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