International students claim B.C. flight school ripped them off

But owners say student who filed civil suit was too dangerous to fly

A Chilliwack flight school is being accused by some international students of not refunding money owed after training didn’t go as expected.

In at least one case, money was paid in advance by a student in Nigeria, his Canadian visa was rejected, and the money was not reimbursed.

But the owners of Blue Bird Flight Academy say the claims are unfair and false.

On June 28, a judge ordered Blue Bird to pay back an Indian man $5,800 after he went to another school.

“Compared to my personal loss, it’s peanuts,” Niyas Vadakkethoduvil said outside the courtroom after the judgment.

Niyas said he forwarded $42,000 to Bluebird over various payments, some of it before he even came to Canada in 2015 when the aircraft maintenance technician decided to train to become a pilot.

Some training did occur but a high turnover of instructors meant Niyas and other international students frequently had to start from scratch, further costing them money.

But Blue Bird owners Jaspreet and Harpreet Sodhi said having multiple instructors is common as that job is a stepping stone en route to becoming a commercial pilot.

As for Niyas, his contract was terminated because he was unsafe, according to Jaspreet.

“If someone is going to be a chef and if he is going to go in and cut his finger every day, then he shouldn’t become a chef,” he said.

Niyas said he and other students approached management about the multiple instructors, which was the beginning of bad blood between them. Eventually he left to join Principal Air out of Abbotsford where he quickly and successfully completed his training.

At that time, Bluebird still had approximately $14,800 of his money. An agreement was made to accept 70 per cent of the cash, approximately $10,300, then Bluebird forwarded $4,500 to the new school but then refused to pay the final $5,800.

In his reply to the claim, Blue Bird director Jaspreet Sodhi said no refund was due as per the contract, and that Niyas’s contract was terminated due to dangerous flying.

Niyas said he was essentially bullied into signing the contract without being able to read it first. But in provincial court on June 28, Judge Andrea Ormiston concluded that Niyas did not sign the contract under duress as he claimed. Ormiston did find that, on a balance of probabilities, the company impeded his ability to continue training and had no basis to terminate the contract.

She said the defendant relied entirely on hearsay evidence and did not provide Niyas’s progress reports from his flight training.

Niyas is not alone in his battle with Bluebird, and his case might not be the last.

Bluebird’s recruitment of students in India received some media attention in that country. In June 2015, Asia Net News produced a report under the headline “Private college cheating students with fake aviation courses.”

That was before the Sodhis bought the company, and Jaspreet said fake companies were recruiting in India using the Blue Bird name, something he put a stop to.

On March 26, 2018, the branch of the Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills & Training that regulates private training in the province cancelled Bluebird’s designation certificate for failing to provide financial statements and “failure to refund students enrolled without meeting admission requirements.”

Jaspreet said they have appealed to the Private Training Institutions Branch (PTIB), but that appeal has not yet been heard.

“As a result of the cancellation decision, Blue Bird is prohibited from offering or providing any career-training programs,” according to a PTIB notice. “A career training program is a career-related program for which tuition paid is equal to or greater than $4,000 and the instructional time is equal to or greater than 40 hours.”

Harpreet also told The Progress that Niyas’s contract was terminated because Blue Bird’s instructors told her he was unsafe in the air.

“My opinion based on my instructors was that he was dangerous to the aircraft,” she said. “So we made a decision.”

Janet Nosko of Prinicipal Air who subsequently trained Niyas disagreed, confirming on the stand during the civil trial that she let him fly one of their planes solo to the Interior. Harpreet was asked if there was a problem with Principal Air or Nosko’s decision to train him?

“They are perfectly well qualified,” Harpreet said of Principal Air. “That’s Janet’s opinion… . That’s between Janet and Niyas.”

Harpreet added that they feel the judge ruled “not against us she ruled with us,” because Niyas’s full claim of 100 per cent of what was owed was not awarded. The judge also declined to award damages.

As for the PTIB designation, Harpreet claimed that was a separate matter and related to a failure to file paperwork due to “a family emergency.”

Despite the cancellation of the designation, the Bluebird website still claimed to be “designated” by the PTIB as of July 6.

The site also claims the company has an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau (BBB), but the BBB’s website says something else: “BBB’s information on this company is being updated, and no report is available at this time.”

Two other people have filed civil claims against the company.

Babangida Ibrahim came to Canada from Nigeria to train to become a pilot, and filed a civil suit for $7,416.67 for course fees he says were not reimbursed after the PTIB designation was cancelled.

Jaspreet said he’s not worried about this lawsuit because he can prove Ibrahim was trained and services were rendered for all the money he paid.

“He is due nothing.”

“He threatened me,” Ibrahim told The Progress of Jaspreet. “He said he brought me to this country, he’ll send me back. I’m doing this to protect other people.”

The Sodhis tell quite another story, including that Ibrahim harassed them and even attempted to steal a company vehicle.

In the same civil claim, Olanrewaju Ibraheem of Nigeria is asking for $8,982.50. He paid a wire transfer to Blue Bird and then was denied a study permit by the government of Canada.

The two are also asking for more than $18,000 in punitive damages.

Yet another individual from India, Bhargav Chanamolu, said he also applied to Blue Bird in December 2016, paid $10,000 for a student visa and $5,000 to Blue Bird for training. Both of which he said he was told were refundable. After his visa was rejected by the Canadian Embassy in India, the $10,000 was returned but Chanamolu said that as of last month, he still has not had his $5,000 refunded.

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@PeeJayAitch
paul.henderson@theprogress.com

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