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Canadian North's Dedicated Maintenance Team: Keeping Our Fleet Safe In The Sky

Canadian North's Maintenance Team

Craig Parr definitely does not have a routine desk job.

Parr is a lead-hand maintenance engineer with Canadian North based out of Iqaluit. He started with the company nine years ago as a maintenance engineer.

With the company’s recent expansion – adding 30 employees to work at a massive 90 thousand square-foot maintenance centre in Edmonton – the company is looking to recruit more people like Parr across the Canadian network.

And people in the North are uniquely qualified to be aircraft maintenance engineers, Parr said.

“This line of work is suited for someone looking for an adventure and not too concerned about running into bad weather. Sometimes you have to help rescue a stranded aircraft – diagnose the problem over the phone, come up with a plan to repair the aircraft, and fly in and fix the problem. You never know what you’re going to have to deal with or where you’regoing to be. It’s definitely not a mind-numbing job,” Parr said.

This time of year, for example, gravel strips in the North pose unique challenges, while in the winter different challenges crop up.

“Sometimes you have to wait out blizzards – without a hangar. So you have to secure the aircraft, and after the blizzard, remove the snow that gets into every orifice.”

Growing up in Ontario, Parr’s father was a pilot and that sparked Parr’s interest in the aviation industry.

“There’s always a bit of passion that’s behind a career in the aviation industry,” Sean Loutitt, vice president of Maintenance for Canadian North said.

“Most of us aren’t the office-type people. On the maintenance end, it’s people who like working with their hands and solving problems. It’s different every day, which makes it a bit more exciting than office work.”

Loutitt is of Gwich’in descent and grew up in Fort Smith. He has had a long career in the North’s aviation industry. He has worked for Buffalo Airways, Kenn Borek Air and Canadian North, including positions as a maintenance engineer, pilot and vice- president of operations.

When asked for any colourful stories of challenges he has faced while working in the North, Loutitt said, “They’re all colourful and they’re all challenging.”

Like this past winter, when the propeller of a Dash-8 had to be replaced in Hall Beach.

“We were running around a small community trying to find unique equipment to do our job – get the proper lift to remove the propeller and replace it with a new one.”

Or more recently, when, shortly after takeoff, a plane had to return to Norman Wells after temperature gauges indicated overheating. For that fix, Canadian North flew engineers from Edmonton and Yellowknife to replace the engine.

“That weekend we didn’t have any rain, so we got the aircraft up after four days. But that could happen when its 45 below. Then we’d need heaters, parachutes to put over the work area – it gets a lot more challenging.”

People from the North are well-suited to that kind of work because they already know the challenges weather can pose. In terms of customer care, people from the North also understand the different cultures and how to treat elders with respect, he said.

“I would love to get as many people from the North into our organization as possible,” Loutitt said.

Kevin Thomas, Canadian North’s senior manager of quality assurance and training, agrees.

“People in the North understand aviation, how important it is to the lives of their communities and families.They need those planes to fly, get in and out, and bring what they need. Those are the types of people we want to hire to support our Manufacturing, Maintenance, Repair and Operations (MMRO) facility because aviation is already ingrained in them,” Thomas said.

Earlier this year, Canadian North opened a 90 thousand square-foot hangar at the Edmonton International Airport. The multi-million dollar investment, which included strong support from the Inuvialuit Development Corp., is a game-changer for Canadian North, Thomas said.

“Up until now, we’ve had to send our airplanes to other companies to take them apart and do the more intense heavy maintenance checks.”

That meant waiting for other companies to have a spot open to take on the onerous task of taking airplanes apart, going over every part with a fine-tooth comb and then reassembling the aircraft.

“With the opening of our own MMRO we are now masters of our own destiny. The expanded capabilities of our own maintenance staff means we can plan to do our own heavy maintenance checks on our own schedule. That translates into more airplanes being available at the right time when our passengers need them.”

The new facility also allows Canadian North to offer maintenance services to other airlines, opening a new revenue stream.

But there’s a global shortage of aircraft engineers, so Canadian North is doubling down on its recruitment efforts, especially in the North, Thomas said.

“Gone are the days when we could say, we only hire fully licensed people with ten years’ experience. Now we’re looking for ways for future generations to see this as an industry they can contribute to.”

“One of the things that attracts most people is a genuine love for aviation in general. And if you’re a person who is attracted to puzzles and trying to figure out riddles, then you’re the kind of person who has a future in aviation maintenance,” Thomas said.

Besides the ample benefits employees get, such as access to flight benefits that cover the globe, the job itself is also very rewarding.

“It’s very rewarding to be that guy or gal who is called to the aircraft when it’s broken and can’t fly. You go through your knowledge and skills and use your hands. You can make hundreds of people happy again because they will make it to their destination – to see their family or friends or to their holiday event. We can make people’s horrible days happy again.”

There are two kinds of aircraft maintenance – line and heavy, Paul Jones explained. Jones is the senior manager of heavy maintenance and line operations for Canadian North.

Line maintenance is for everyday flights – engineers receive a work package and carry out daily inspections.

Heavy maintenance on an aircraft occurs about every three years, or 4,000 flying hours for a Boeing 737. Engineers take the entire airplane apart and inspect every element in a process that takes months to complete.

“In the middle of a heavy maintenance operation it almost looks hopeless, with airplane parts all around you. But we keep at it, get it all back together and at the end have an airplane that is like 100 per cent new. It’s a satisfying whole-team effort to see the plane go back together and everything function properly,” he said.

Like Jones, many maintenance engineers start off as backyard hobby mechanics until they want a new challenge and tackle higher technology.

“I didn’t really want to work on greasy oily vehicles under a lift all day in a garage. I wanted to keep it cleaner and work on a higher technology.”

Together, heavy and line maintenance engineers form Canadian North’s network and are operational 24/7, working out of five bases in Edmonton, Yellowknife, Calgary, Iqaluit and Ottawa.

Jones took a lead role in recruiting 30 engineers for the MMRO in Edmonton, where heavy maintenance on Canadian North’s 16 aircraft is now carried out.

“I feel like we’re well on our way to success... I’m 50 years old now, and if this is successful, which I think it will be, it will be the biggest accomplishment of my career. To know that I’m the person who was tasked with putting this team together feels good.”

The above story can also be found in the September edition of Canadian North's Up Here inflight magazine.

To learn more about Canadian North, please visit them online.