Welcome to the first of CCAA’s Corporate Partner Spotlights. This series will explore the organizations that support the CCAA’s objectives and programming, and who fill vital roles throughout the Canadian aviation and aerospace sector.

This month’s Spotlight focuses on KF Aerospace, a thriving company with four locations in different parts of the country and headquartered Kelowna, British Columbia. 

The CCAA sat down with KF’s Corporate Communications Coordinator, Julie Whittet, to learn more about the company and to discuss KF’s role in the industry, its challenges and triumphs, and what the future looks like for one of the CCAA’s most committed partners. 

Q: Can you give us a brief overview of KF Aerospace as an organization?

“KF is a truly multifaceted organization. We’re Canada’s largest commercial aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) provider completing 1,000,000 maintenance hours per year on over 250 projects. We’re home to a world-class aerospace engineering division. We have over 40 years experience as an air operator, in both passenger and cargo service. We provide military pilot training to the Royal Canadian Air Force, and we also have an aircraft leasing operation that services clients across North America and Europe. 

Over 1,100 staff work at our locations across Canada. Our largest base is here in Kelowna and then we have a line maintenance base in Vancouver, a large military training base in Portage La Prairie, Manitoba, and a widebody maintenance facility in Hamilton, Ontario.”

Q: Can you give us a bit of background on KF and share how it got its start in the industry?

“KF was founded in 1970 by our Owner, Barry Lapointe. Barry started out with a small aircraft repair business servicing the BC Interior from a panel van. It was just him, but he had a big dream and was able to find some hangar space beside the Kelowna airport. Despite being in a rural area, he set up shop and here we are 52 years later—a leading aerospace company that competes globally in a range of aviation services. Barry’s passion for aviation has shaped the company that we are today. It’s a true Canadian aviation success story that we are very proud of.”

Q: You have talked about KF’s status as a top MRO organization, is there anything within that field that KF is particularly know for specializing in?

“Among our many maintenance and modification specialties is our world-renowned passenger-to-freighter conversion program. It’s one of the heaviest structural modifications in aviation. We take a former passenger carrier, remove all its interior furnishings, reinforce the aircraft structure from nose to tail, and cut a large opening into the side of the fuselage to accommodate the installation of an 11ft hydraulic-powered cargo door. Once converted, the aircraft is capable of many more years of service as a cargo carrier.”

Q: Are there any new plans for KF that you are excited for?

“We have seen a significant period of expansion over the past three years. We’ve built 2 new hangers and expanded 3 existing facilities and have been working to build up our staffing levels, which is our primary focus right now.

Earlier this year we launched a new passenger charter airline, Aeroflyer which has already surpassed 500 flying hours and continues to expand its services. By the end of 2023 we will also have two new production lines of Boeing Converted Freighters at our Kelowna operations. 

We also have a joint venture company, SkyAlyne, that will soon be bidding on the Government of Canada’s Future Aircrew Training (FAcT) program. It’s a multi-billion contract that will provide over 25 years of training and support for RCAF pilots and aircrew. We believe we are well positioned for it, and we’re excited about our made-in-Canada solution.”

Q: You have talked about expanding your workforce, which I’m sure you know is quite the challenge in the industry right now. How is KF approaching the issue to secure the manpower they need for the future?

“We’ve developed strong partnerships with both Okanagan College and Mohawk College, and we recruit from institutions across Canada. In fact, we currently have over 200 apprentices working in our facilities. Every we work hard to attend career fairs and open house events that help drive students into the colleges. Our goal is to ensure every spot is filled in those programs. 

In Hamilton, our recent facility expansion was jointly built with Mohawk College’s new Centre for Aviation Technology. This airside campus gives students with an incredible opportunity to gain hands-on experience, working side-by-side with our tradespeople and in a hangar adjacent to their classes and labs.

Additionally, we’ve created in-house training opportunities to support our maintenance and modification programs. For example, our Aircraft Service Technician and Aircraft Structural Fitter roles offer aviation training for entry-level applicants and allow us to spool up staff to help us meet needs that exceed availability in the labour market.”

Despite this, the market remains very tight, and in some cases, we have been forced to look overseas to secure the skilled workers that we need to meet customer demands.”

Q: What are the key CCAA services that KF takes advantage of, and which ones have you had the most success with?

“We’ve been pleased to use several CCAA services. We’ve done subsidies, training, and supported the CCAA on many of their projects. We have used their training services for our aircraft painter and interior technician certifications. These have been essential for us because they give entry level staff a career path in aviation that leads them towards a nationally recognized certification.”

Q: How would you say KF is adapting to the changes that the digital workplace integration is having on the industry?

“Our focus is on going all digital so that we can provide better information sharing with our customers, and at a faster rate.  We’ve already started rolling out some key tools and have had several pilot projects that have shown some very exciting results. We are looking at keeping that process going and rolling out these new technologies in greater scope.”

Q: Last but certainly not least, are there any ambitious new projects in the future for KF?

“The future looks very strong for KF Aerospace, with new programs and services on the horizon. Personally, one of the projects I am most excited about is a new on-site daycare for our Kelowna airport campus, which will open later next year with dedicated spots for KF families.

This summer we also opened the KF Centre for Excellence, a state-of-the-art aviation exhibition centre--much of which is very interactive. People of all ages and backgrounds get to sit in a real cockpit, explore the flight controls and learn how engines work. It’s an exciting new way to get our younger generation exposed to aviation and plant the seed for future career aspirations. We are going to see the benefits of the Centre for many years to come.”

On a final note

KF Aerospace operates out of Kelowna, BC, and their website can be found here: KF Aero. We would like to thank Julie for taking the time to chat about KF and their plans for the future. The CCAA looks forward to continuing its collaboration with KF to help ensure Canada’s renowned aviation and aerospace sector continues to thrive.