Written by John Pineau, MCP
It’s an unusually warm November day, the sun’s rays reflecting off the corrugated steel sides of two recently constructed aircraft hangars. A feeling of optimism is in the air as two Bell helicopters hover only a few feet above the ground a short distance away. Training sessions are underway, two young pilots on a mission to improve their understanding of fl ight, a necessary part of this process to advance one’s career as a military pilot. Several other stationary aircraft decorate the ramp, strategically poised to accommodate the next group of young pilots in training.
This is the Canada Wings Aviation Training Centre (CWATC) at Southport, Manitoba, Canada a world-class facility only recently established to provide flight training. Situated an hour west of Winnipeg, the centre trains some 300 students a year, primarily for Canada’s Department of National Defence.
Turn back the clock to 2005 when the Canadian federal government announced that Allied Wings had won a bid to train Canadian Air Force pilots over a twenty-two year period, no small accomplishment for this consortium of Canadian and American companies that competed in the bid against an international giant in Canadian based Bombardier Inc. The contract is valued at 1.8 billion dollars. Allied Wings is required to conduct flight training and support services for the Canadian Department of National Defense. The contract permits Allied Wings to offer training to other national and international customers.
Allied Wings was the brainchild of another western-based company called Kelowna Flightcraft. Kelowna Flightcraft invited three partners to provide specialized services to the team including Canadian Helicopters (rotary wing operations and maintenance, Canadian Base Operators (operations & maintenance of the airfield and associated facilities), and Atlantis Systems International (provides all synthetic training equipment & services, simulation based e–learning, and courseware development).
On September 1st, 2005 Allied Wings officially assumed responsibility for flying training operations at Southport. As is the case with most business accomplishments, winning the bid was only the beginning.
A 22-year contract is a big commitment to make, and in the eyes of Kelowna Flightcraft, the man best suited to lead the transition effort was Ken Carr, an experienced ex-Canadian air force pilot commander and former member of the Snowbirds. Carr’s pedigree also includes formal education in mechanical engineering and its shows, the facility operating like a well-oiled machine. “We started with just four people when the contract began in 2005. We’ve grown to a staff of 190 people and just recently achieved steady state operations. We’ve come a long way but we’ve still got lots of work to do.”
The Steady State
Now that the transition phase is complete, Allied Wings has reached what they refer to as “Steady State”. Steady State is the state at which the air force has declared that the contractor is generally meeting the terms and conditions of the Contract and can now focus on program improvement and growth. Using a team-oriented approach to management, Carr and the other division managers meet daily to address short-term issues and meet annually to facilitate the organization’s 5 year rolling plan. Whether it’s day-to-day management, short or long range planning, the organization looks to improve what is already the highest standard set by the Canadian military as its principal client. Regardless of how diligent the team is toward proactive management, there are issues that need continuous attention. Two of the more prominent include attracting and retaining instructors and the ever-changing world of technology.
Train the Trainers
Without a doubt, the most critical challenge for Allied Wings is attracting and retaining instructors. “Training a trainer on average takes a year,” explains Carr. “We recruit them, go through a selection process that includes an assessment of their flying skills and then train them to the military standard. The next thing you know the better part of a year has passed. Meanwhile, an instructor can find an opportunity elsewhere and leave in two weeks. That leaves a big hole to fill.”
According to Carr, management has to be diligent about providing solid leadership, a good work environment and a career opportunity that’s hard to overlook. “This is a top notch place to work. We have a brand new facility; modern aircraft and state-of-the-art technology that instructors need to do their job to the highest standard. It’s an excellent place to build a career.”
The Ever-Changing World of Technology
Allied Wings has spared no expense when it comes to providing the tools required to achieve the highest standards in aviation training. Immediately after joining the program, each student is equipped with tailor-made aviation “courseware”, understandably protected by a very serious security framework. Technology is also a key driver of the centre’s theoretical and practical training. Several briefing rooms equipped with HD screens and computers are available. Larger classrooms – including a 150- seat theatre – are also available to demonstrate the technical aspects of flight, while a large part of the hands-on training occurs in state-of-theart flight simulators.
The facility’s simulators are without a doubt its most fascinating feature. Simulators range from smaller units – where basic aviation skills are developed – to the more challenging full- flight simulators. More specifically, the facility trains pilots in a Bell 412CF with a 6-axis electric motion system, a Bell 412 CF with no motion, and a Beechcraft C90B King Air with 6-Axis electric motion. Other devices include the Grob 120A CPT, Bell 206 CPT, King Air C90B IPT, and the Bell 412CF IPT.
With technology changing so rapidly, management recognizes the importance of constant re-investment and the knowledge required to make the correct decisions, a luxury afforded to the training centre by one of its partners, Atlantis Systems International. “Atlantis plays a key role in operations as does Canadian Helicopter and Canadian Base Operators. While the simulators offer many features that aircraft simply cannot, like for example a night time training shift that can’t happen outdoors due to noise and safety factors, flying the real thing is where things get really exciting. Allied Wings inventory provides a diverse array of options totalling 37 aircraft which include11 Grob 120’s, 7 Ratheon C90B’s, 10 Bell 206 Jet Rangers, and 9 Bell 412 Griffons. On the fixed wing side, Allied Wings relies on Aero Recip for its engine overhauls. “Safety is our number one operational priority around here. It’s a significant part of our curriculum so it only makes sense that we rely on Aero Recip to overhaul the piston side of our fleet. To be safe operationally we have to have reliable equipment.” Operating such a complex training facility brings with it a natural and unavoidable land use conflicts. But according to Carr, these challenges are overcome by being an active member of the local community. “We have a very busy airport here; one of the busiest in the country in terms of airfield movements. And a critical part of our training requires pilots to land in farmer’s fields. This wouldn’t be possible if we didn’t have a strong relationship with the community. We’re active members of the Chamber of Commerce. We conduct school tours and open houses with local farmers. The facility is a strong economic generator for the region and people appreciate that.”
Despite the fact the Canada Wings Aviation Training Centre is more than busy enough with its commitment to the Canadian Military, Allied Wings is constantly looking for ways to grow into other military and government markets. As you walk the hallways of the facility, it is not uncommon to see air force uniforms from other western friendly nations around the world including on this day Australia and Germany.
To ensure the decision makers in other nations are fully aware of Allied Wings assets, the company employs a full-time marketing professional based in Ottawa, Canada. Travelling to industry trade shows across the planet is a core part of their marketing strategy. “When we do the trade shows we’re careful to respect the needs of our audience. We send one guy from the company and one from the military side. That way we cover each perspective and people can relate to what each of us is saying.”
When the Canada Wings Aviation Training Centre was officially opened on September 1st 2007 it was launched in honour of Hilly Brown, a Manitoba grown pilot and Canada’s First World War II flying ace. Looking forward, if Allied Wings has anything to do with it, many a hero will be delivered to the world of air force flight, laying the foundation for legacies to come.