Recent History – 2003
June 3, 2003 — By Kelly Harris, Daily News Staff
What was once a relic of the Cold War will soon become the finishing school for aircraft maintenance engineers provincewide. Northern Lights College’s Dawson Creek Campus is getting a $2 million cash injection to make its Aircraft Maintenance Engineer program the destination for students from throughout B.C. Currently, the program brings in $50,000 a month to Dawson Creek with 45 to 50 students attending the regular program at any given time, said school principal Bob Davidson
“We used to be a small northern player in this,” he said. “As of today we became a major player in the B.C. aerospace training industry.”
Premier Gordon Campbell announced the investment into aerospace training in B.C. from a stage in a massive airplane hangar near Richmond, Monday. The provincial government has committed $20 million to new aerospace training facilities that will add 500 new student spaces.
“We’re hoping that the announcement we make today will reignite enthusiasm that Boeing and others internationally have for ourprovince,” said Campbell.
The lion’s share of the spending- $16 million – will go to the B.C. Institute of Technology aerospace campus near Richmond. Dawson Creek’s take will further expand what once was a radar service base on the Pine Line used from the mid-1950s until late in the Lester B. Pearson era.
Before the facility was transformed into the Dawson Creek Campus of NLC, it was used in NATO’s fight against communism. Many of the school’s buildings were once the nerve centre for the radar base used until it became obsolete in the mid-1960s. The base had one of the earliest hangars in the world to house helicopters, with that type of aircraft housed at the base from its inception in the early 1950s.
The present hangar at NLC’s Dawson Creek Campus houses several aircraft including a Cessna and a turbo prop King Air B-90. Along with the fixed wing aircraft, several helicopters are housed in the facility. One of the latest acquisitions is a circa-1961 Bell Huey helicopter, typical of the aircraft used during the Vietnam War. The hangar will be doubled in size, allowing the school to add aircraft and students, Davidson said.
“We have forged a partnership with Okanagan University College in Vernon,” he said. “As well as some other schoolsŠ are looking at it.”
The program will become segregated into three distinct training centers, with aerospace students taking the first two levels of the course – basic tools, theory of flight and engine work – at other centers. Actual work on aircraft would be done at the Dawson Creek campus.
“Our college has been a leader in this field for many years and I am proud that the good work done here in the Peace is being recognized provincially,” said Peace River South MLA Blair Lekstrom, who was one of the premier’s wingmen during the announcement Monday.
“I have spoken many times about the need to develop programs for skilled workers and this strategy is an important step towards ensuring we have well-trained people who fulfill an important role.”
The 12-month course at Dawson Creek campus also runs concurrently with several industry-type courses, such as upgrading for ticketed aircraft maintenance engineers. British Columbia has a significant shortage of skilled aerospace workers and will need 10,000 more over the next eight years, he said.
Michael Coughlin of Cascade Aerospace said the commitment from the B.C. government is impressive.
“Like every industry today, aerospace is flying through turbulent skies,” he said. “It’s a difficult time economically for the
airlines. But we know one thing, that the slowdown that we see right now is very temporary.”
With the new initiative, Coughlin said, British Columbia will be in a perfect competitive position when the market rebounds.
“The fact that we have a co-ordinated approach to our human resources issues makes our industry here very strong,” added Andrew Huige of the Aerospace Industry Association of British Columbia.
“So we are very, very competitive these days with other jurisdictions in the United States as well.”
Lekstrom said the investment announced Monday will go a long way toaddressing the issue of qualified AME’s throughout the province, showing how industry, the government and training facilities can work together to address province-wide concerns.
“This is a great example of how institutions can work together, sharing expertise and improving our labour force,” he said. “This is an expanding sector and I’m excited about the possibilities for our college and the leadership role it is playing in making this strategy a success.”
- with files from CP
This article is taken from the Peace River Block Daily News, Dawson Creek, with the permission of the publisher. The Daily News retains all rights relating to this material. The information in this article is intended solely for research or general interest purposes.