“My path explains why I am here now,” says Jean-Charles Fleury, a truck driver for Transport Chalut 2000 in Bedford, Que.
It’s the path of an aviation enthusiast who, after a long career as a professional pilot, chose to trade his plane for a truck.
“I am passionate about aviation. My wife, Marie-Josée, helped me a lot to live this passion while I was studying,” says Mr. Fleury, 54, a resident of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu. “But my career as a pilot has always been marked by difficulties.”
He trained as a pilot in the 1990s. Just as he was about to complete his simulator training to obtain his commercial pilot’s licence, the school closed. The ordeal was made even more difficult because he had already paid $7,500 from his savings for training he never received.
Then came the 9/11 attacks, which brought air travel to a complete halt.
In 2010, he flew a Beechcraft A100 King Air for a company that provided aerial fire patrol in northern Quebec. “One morning I arrived at the St. Hubert airport and my plane wasn’t there. It had been given to another crew in Quebec City. That morning, June 23, 2010, my plane crashed, costing the lives of both pilots and five passengers. It was a blow to me.”
Fleury flew corporate planes for a time, a job that requires white-glove customer service, which serves him well in his trucking job.
From 2014 to 2020, he flew for Aviation CMP, but the Covid-19 pandemic came along, dealing another blow to his aviation career.
Previously, he had worked for a company that wanted to certify an amphibious aircraft. “The big boss, knowing I was a pilot, put me in charge of testing. But in view of certain things, I had a bad feeling. And, indeed, three months after I resigned, the test pilot killed himself and the company closed.”
But this job played a major role in Jean-Charles Fleury’s path. Among other tasks, he had to transport a model of the aircraft to various air shows driving of a cube truck towing an enclosed trailer.
“The length of the two vehicles end to end was comparable to that of a semi-trailer,” he recalls.
But he remembers most of all the fun he had driving the cube truck.
“In a life, you always have interesting moments, moments you remember all the time. And this, for me, was one of them,” he says.
The shutdown of aviation operations due to the Covid-19 pandemic was the final straw.
“Aviation is a passion, but maybe that’s all it is, a passion,” he realizes. “When your passion ends up hurting you every time…You go back into your memories and try to find what brought you happiness. Is there anything else I could do? And there, there is the little cube truck that comes back to your mind.”
Fleury had already said that if, one day, aviation would no longer work out, he would return to a truck.
As luck would have it, the Quebec government announced grants for trucking training just as Fleury was in the process of reorienting himself. He enrolled at the Centre de formation en transport routier in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu in the spring of 2020 and graduated with his diploma and CDL.
“There is everything in trucking,” he points out. He drives a tanker for Transport Chalut 2000. The company offers what he was looking for: it allows him to come home every night; it’s serious and safe; and the team is fun to be around.
He sees many similarities between his old job and his new one.
“I used to do my safety check before I took off with my plane, I do my safety round on my truck. I used to pressurize my aircraft cabin, I pressurize my tanker,” he jokes. “You have to follow a log book as an airplane pilot, it’s the same with my current job. And then there’s the weather and the regulations.”
But one thing is easier in trucking: “As a pilot, I had to do all the Customs paperwork myself. At Chalut, someone does all that for me. All I have to do is present my papers. In five minutes, everything is done.”
With trucking, Fleury has found a new passion and a new path.