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Bruce Fossen, a 46-year-old cattle rancher from Rock Creek, is one of 16 students taking part in Okanagan College’s inaugural class of Aircraft Maintenance Engineer Structures (AME S) program. Fossen said a passion for aviation and the convenience of training in the Okanagan led him to the program.
“I grew up with airplanes, both my father and brother are pilots, and I’ve always had a strong interest in the mechanical side of things,” said Fossen. “I love the idea of taking a flat piece of metal and turning it into something as elegant as an airplane. When I toured the facility at Kelowna Flightcraft I saw a Canadian Forces Twin Otter that had some damage to its nose gear. Just the other day I watched as it was ground-tested and it was amazing to see the transformation.”
Okanagan College launched the program in February at its Aerospace facility located at the Kelowna airport. The addition of the AME S program positions Okanagan College as the region’s largest provider of aviation training. Programs in Commercial Aviation and AME Mechanics (AME M) are also available at the College.
Developed in partnership with industry input from Kelowna Flightcraft and with significant support from BCIT, the 37-week AME S program positions graduates for immediate entry into the field of aviation.
“We took a great deal of care in ensuring the curriculum and training for this program were in-keeping with the current industry standards and had a significant amount of help from our partners at Flightcraft and BCIT,” said John Haller, Dean of Trades and Apprenticeship at Okanagan College. “The result is a top-notch program that is in demand.”
Structures engineers focus their efforts on maintaining and repairing the exterior elements of aircraft of all kinds. The work is both technical and artful.
“There is a fairly significant difference between those who work on mechanical systems and the people who are licensed in structures,” explained Murray Palmer, AME S instructor at Okanagan College. “If you use the automotive industry as a comparator, the structures engineers would be the equivalent of those who work in automotive collision repair – they deal with all of the outer elements: the fuselage, wings, tail and skin. It’s very technical and detailed work but it is really rewarding.”
Fossen plans on using his newfound skills and credential to work on aircraft in the Okanagan – apprenticing at Kelowna Flightcraft would be his dream job.
Flightcraft’s Director of Human Resources, Grant Stevens, played an instrumental role in offering advice on behalf of the industry through the development phases of the program. He said that despite the shut down of Aveos Fleet Performance Inc., opportunities for AME S graduates are plentiful.
“There’s really never been a better time to be involved in aircraft maintenance,” said Stevens. “A significant number of graduates of Okanagan College’s AME S program will be employed in the region, which hasn’t been impacted by the layoffs in any way. Looking across North America, the bottom line is there is still the same number of aircraft flying today as there was a few weeks ago. All of those planes need to be serviced and there is no getting around that. The industry may feel a slight ripple as a result of the shut down but there won’t be any significant long term effects.”
After 25 years in the ranching industry, Fossen is used to hard work and the challenges that come along with taking a risk. He’s also confident he made a great decision when he enrolled in the College’s AME S program.
“I’m really excited to get out into the shop,” said Fossen. “My dream would be to work in the Okanagan but I’m open to other opportunities in B.C. I’ve still got lots to learn but we are being taught by some really top-notch instructors and I’m feeling well prepared for a bright future.”