Aircraft industry expansion creates new jobs for Okanagan College grads

Okanagan College Media Release

A large expansion in the local aircraft industry and national un-met staffing demands has fueled Okanagan College to offer an additional intake of its Aircraft Maintenance Engineering-Structures program this fall.

Starting on Nov. 14, the program will see up to 12 students step into KF Aerospace’s shop space at the Kelowna International Airport to begin training for one of the region’s most in-demand careers. Thanks to an accelerated 37-week program, students will be ready to enter the workforce by August.

AME-S Sept 2017

“Aircraft Maintenance Engineer Structural Technicians (AME-S) have always been one of the most sought-after specialists in aviation,” says Steve Moores, Dean of Trades and Apprenticeship at Okanagan College. “With the industry growth and the number of retiring aircraft engineers, we knew it would only be a matter of time before the demand became a big obstacle for local and national employers.”

“In the last 10 years, we’ve built three new hangars in Kelowna and tripled the floor space and the number of aircrafts of which we can do heavy maintenance on,” says Grant Stevens, Director of Human Resources for KF Aerospace. “The number one staffing shortage we have is for AME-S – we just can’t hire trained technicians fast enough.”Grant Stevens Sept 2017

Not only is there a local demand there is also a nation-wide demand. Boeing, a major Canadian airline, predicts a global industry need for 609,000 aircraft maintenance technicians over the next 20 years, making it the most in-demand occupation in the aviation industry.

After searching for and hiring 60 AMEs from various trades schools throughout Canada, KF Aerospace still came up short on staffing and currently has 40 openings for Structural Technicians. Looking for a solution, KF Aerospace approached Okanagan College earlier this summer – setting the wheels in motion for launching the new class.

“KF is supporting this new intake of students through additional space in their hangars, tools, equipment, work benches, office space and more,” says Moores. “Over the past five years our partnership has been amazing and this just adds to it.”

“Our commitment to Okanagan College and the AME programs is to hire a minimum of half the graduating class, however the last three years straight we’ve hired every single graduating student,” says Stevens.

This year will be no different as KF anticipates hiring the entire 12-person class. Conditional upon graduating, students will be interviewed and offered jobs in July 2018, a month before the program is even finished.

“Alongside OC, we hold open houses before each program intake to show prospective students what the workplace looks like, the type of work they’ll be doing, job openings, advancement opportunities as well as what benefit and salary structures look like – we’re very open with what OC graduates can expect from KF Aerospace,” says Stevens.

The next open house is on Sept. 20 at 6 p.m. at KF Aerospace’s location at the Kelowna Airport. It will equip prospective students with the knowledge and resources to enrol in the program and to make a successful career in the aviation industry. Attendance is free and open to the public.

For more information on the Aircraft Maintenance Engineering Structures program and upcoming open houses, please visit 

                Thanks to the Swanberg Family for their generosity coverage Oct. 6 - Okanagan College Media Release
PHOTO GALLERY & Additional Media Coverage

Single largest equipment donation in College's history lands in Vernon with the AME-M Program

A world-class aircraft donated to Okanagan College for training purposes was unveiled today during a ceremony at the Vernon Aerospace campus. The donation marks the most valuable gift of equipment the College has received in its 50-plus-year history.

The British Aerospace Model Jetstream 31, valued at nearly $700,000 was donated by the Swanberg family of Grande Prairie & Fort St. John, in memory of Sylvan and Dorothy Swanberg. Their son Loran was joined by family members to announce the donation in support of the College’s Aircraft Maintenance Engineering (AME) M-License program, which trains students in the maintenance, repair and overhaul of fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters.

“Our family is very proud to be able to support the next generation of Aircraft Maintenance Engineers,” says Swanberg. “Continuous education and hands-on training is so important in the aviation industry.

“We are delighted that this aircraft, donated in honour of my parents, has found a wonderful home at Okanagan College, where it will inspire and enrich the learning experience for students for years to come.”

Swanberg presented the keys to the aircraft to Okanagan College President Jim Hamilton, who noted that the value of the aircraft as a teaching tool far exceeded any dollar value that could be ascribed to the plane.

“This gift will enrich the training experience for our students for years to come,” said Hamilton. “On behalf of Okanagan College, I want to express our sincere gratitude to the Swanberg family for this support.”

In accordance with Transport Canada regulations, the Jetstream was disassembled in Calgary and shipped by truck to its new home at the College’s AME hangar in Vernon for reassembly. Students were included in the reassembly process and are already at work on maintenance projects on the aircraft.

With baby-boomer retirements looming and a serious shortage of aircraft mechanics on the horizon, Hamilton says the College is working with industry partners to be proactive in addressing skills shortages.

“We know we are facing a shortage of aircraft mechanics,” explains Hamilton. “Boeing has projected a need for 584,000 maintenance technicians globally over the next 20 years. Support like this gift plays an integral role in Okanagan College’s efforts to train the skilled workers our province and country needs.”

Sylvan Swanberg’s career in the transport industry spanned more than 50 years. He founded Swanberg Air in Grande Prairie, AB, in 2000. The company offered cargo, scheduled and charter.  

passenger services in Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia for 11 years. A decision was made to cease operations after Swanberg passed away in April 2011; his wife Dorothy passed away in June 2012.Jetstream Donation Keys Oct 2015

The family has previously donated aircraft to three other post-secondary institutions in Canada, including Jetstream 31s to Red River College in Winnipeg, and Northern Lights College in Dawson Creek, and a 601 Challenger to SAIT Polytechnic in Calgary.

There is another unique connection between the Jetstreams at Northern Lights and Okanagan College, notes Steve Moores, the College’s Dean of Trades and Apprenticeship.

“It’s all the more special that our students will have a chance to work on a Swanberg Jetstream here at the College, and they’ll see another when they head up to Dawson Creek to complete their training,” says Moores.

AME students train for 48 weeks at the College’s hangar in Vernon and then complete the final 14 weeks of the program at Northern Lights College.

“We hope that link resonates with the students,” adds Swanberg. “Our family is very excited about the legacy behind these aircraft and the connection between them. These donations are meant to celebrate and carry on my parents’ strong belief in higher education and lifelong learning.”

More information about the AME program is available at

Congratulations Samatha on being this years Len Neufeld Burary Recipient Good Luck at the April 15 Skills Canada BC Provincials
Samantha Wardrop - AME Student Awarded the Vernon Flying Clubs Len Neufeld Bursary 

The bursary, funded by the members of the Vernon Flying Club, was raised in memory of Len Neufeld, a respected and well-liked club member who passed the fix “outbound” for the last time in November, 2008 after several months of failing health.  Thebursary is awarded on an annual basis to a deserving under-training pilot orair maintenance engineer and is funded from donations made by club membersand/or from monies made from club activities during the year such as pancakebreakfasts.  Samantha’smarks in both theory and practical including her perfect Attendance Adescription is why she was chosen for the Bursary this year. 

Samantha will also berepresenting Okanagan College at the Skills Canada BC Provincials inAbbotsford on April 15, 2015 in Aircraft Maintenance Engineeringcompetition..

Congratulations Samantha on your Award and Good Luckat the Skills Canada BC Provincials!

Award remembers Okanagan College student and aids another in following his dream 
2015 Tim Harder Memorial Award recipient

A  young man’s dream of becoming an aircraft mechanic and pilot ended when his life was cut short by a tragic accident. Now, the award created in his memory is inspiring another student to pursue the lofty goal they shared.

Brad Atkins of Vernon is the recipient of the first annual Tim Harder Memorial Award, a $1,000 bursary created to support students in the Aircraft Maintenance Engineering (AME) program at Okanagan College.

“I couldn’t be more grateful for this award,” says Atkins. “I can’t even put it into words.

“I feel very privileged, and I want to express my deepest thanks to the Harder family and to let them know just how much this award means to me. It takes an incredible weight off my shoulders to know that I have these funds to put towards living expenses and tuition for the rest of my program.” 

During the award presentation at Okanagan College’s Aerospace Campus in Vernon, Tim Harder’s parents, Drs. James and Joyce Harder, reflected on why they chose to establish the award in their son’s memory and their hopes for what it will achieve.

“When Tim died, our family and friends wanted to do something to honour his memory,” explains Joyce Harder. 

“We knew that it had been a struggle for Tim to go back to school after all those years, and so we decided to help other students in a similar situation,” says James Harder. “Okanagan College has been extremely helpful in making this happen.”

Harder was 30 years old when he decided to follow his passion and pursue a career in aviation, enrolling in the AME program at Okanagan College’s Aerospace Campus. He hoped one day to also attain his commercial pilot’s license and fly up north during the summer while pursuing his other passion, ski coaching, during the winter.

Sadly, after completing the first year of the program, Harder perished in a tragic motor vehicle accident. His parents established the annual award in his name through the Okanagan College Foundation; the award is intended to assist mature students enrolled in the AME program.

“Tim Harder brought a lot of life and laughter to the AME program and was great at encouraging fellow classmates to keep their goals in perspective,” says Dale Keegstra, Manager, Aerospace Department, Aircraft Maintenance Engineering M-License. “He was always willing to help out in the shop when someone needed an extra hand to get a job done. Tim had a genuine love for mechanics and the aviation industry.” 

Atkins, who has completed the first 48 weeks of training for the AME M-License through Okanagan College, will now embark for the final 14 weeks of training at Northern Lights College in Dawson Creek. 

Like Harder, Atkins also has a great love for the outdoors and for coaching/teaching outdoor skills. Atkins founded his own business, Backcountry Avalanche Awareness, an avalanche skills training company, four years ago and has continued to operate the business while completing his studies at Okanagan College.

“It’s been a challenge returning to school as a mature student, completing my courses while still running my own business,” says Atkins. “But I’m so excited for the career this will allow me to have, and it’s been very fulfilling to be able to continue helping people through education while also continuing my own education.”

The AME program prepares apprentices to certify an aircraft after maintenance, inspection, repair or modification. Training on both rotary wing aircraft (helicopters) and fixed wing aircraft is provided, and covers a wide range of subjects with emphasis on practical training and job-readiness. 

For more information about this and other awards available at Okanagan College, please visit

Aircraft Maintenance Engineering - Structures License Student

College’s new aircraft maintenance program spreads its wings

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 were 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 which is 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 those that 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. Its very technical and detailed work but it is really rewarding.”

Fossen plans on using his new found 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.”