Second to none

The Centre for Aviation Technology has cemented a reputation as a leading training hub for an industry facing huge talent needs

The Centre for Aviation Technology at Hamilton International Airport (YHM) has already established a reputation for excellence in its facilities, equipment and faculty knowledge less than two years after its opening.

Built in conjunction with KF Aerospace’s expansion of its Hamilton maintenance, repair and operations, the state-of-the-art facility is home for Mohawk College's Aviation Technician programs in maintenance, structures and avionics and has airside access at one of the country’s most active airports.

The new centre, which has airside access at one of the country’s most active airports, has allowed the College to double enrolment in its aviation program to 350 students.

All three streams of Mohawk College’s Aviation program are in growth mode.

“We have grown to be the fifth-largest aviation school in the country and we have our eye on going higher,” says George Miltenburg, Associate Dean, School of Engineering Technology and Aviation.

The 75,000-square-foot complex, which opened in February 2021, is a critical piece of that ambition. It features modern labs, shops, classrooms, and a large hangar space where students work on nearly 20 aircraft.

“It is a fantastic, purpose-built facility that offers airside access at the airport. It allows us to give our students more hands-on time in the labs and in the hangar working on real aircraft. Our students will emerge even more prepared for the workforce and the word is already out among employers. Our graduates will be more highly sought after than ever before.”

The program has a range of aircraft that have been donated by industry partners, including a fully operational Boeing 727-200, an Ornge Sikorski helicopter, and a Falcon corporate jet.

The three streams have a shared core first year, which means graduates of one stream can finish another in a year. They each combine theory and hands-on practice using cutting-edge training equipment and aircraft.

Students get between 12 and 18 months credit toward their practical work experience required for licence certification through Transport Canada.

Being located right at the airport offers an unparalleled real-world experience to students and offers ready access to the aviation program’s 30 faculty.

“Many of our part-time instructors are working at maintenance, repair and overhaul companies right at the airport. They walk over to teach,” says Miltenburg. “They come from all over the world and are experienced on all types of aircraft.”

Mohawk is the only school in Canada with the Boeing 737 NG virtual maintenance trainer and is the only college in North America with more than a few software seats. Mohawk has 11 seats of the expensive software that is used by Boeing itself to train and type certify its technicians to work on the world’s most common aircraft.

“It has been an incredible windfall for the program that is paying dividends for our maintenance and avionics students,” says Miltenburg.

Mohawk maintenance and avionics students graduate with 100 hours of training on the virtual trainer. Faculty set up a “snag” scenario that students have to investigate and solve.

“They have to logically move through all the aircraft systems and understanding the FIM (fault isolation manuals) to find the cause and address it,” says Shawn Hoyle, an aviation professor and the person responsible for training through Transport Canada.

“That teaches them the methodology and they are evaluated on that. The more you do it, the better you get at it. Unlike other programs, our students develop very strong troubleshooting skills.”

In the avionics stream, students work on a glass cockpit conversion in which they replace a late 1980s cockpit on a donated King Air aircraft with modern Garmin flat screens. Students handle everything, from electrical drawings to vendor selection to project management.

“We couldn’t do this without the support of industry partners who donate equipment but also ensure we are teaching the very latest in skills,” says Miltenburg.

Mohawk College aviation graduates are snapped up by employers across Canada and around the world in an industry facing huge talent shortages.

For instance, KF Aerospace – Canada’s largest MRO operator – offered jobs to every Structures graduate earlier this year.

“Industry is knocking down our door and visiting our classrooms to talk to our students. That includes the Canadian Armed Forces, which is offering incentive packages. Some companies are offering $10,000 signing bonuses,” says Hoyle.

Mohawk is targeting growth for its aviation through both domestic and international enrolment.

“The Canadian licence is well-recognized around the world, so that is very helpful to us. Students can very easily return home or go elsewhere in the world to find work.”

For more than 60 years, Halifax-based IMP Aerospace and Defence has offered maintenance, modification and repair services to military, government and commercial operators.

IMP, which also operates in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and British Columbia, delivers major modification and maintenance programs for Canadian military planes and helicopters and for the U.S. Marine Corps. It also takes care of the Snowbirds’ CT 114 Tutor aircraft.

The landing of new contracts means the company is in a recruiting drive, says Neil Harding, Director of Aircraft Production and IMP’s person responsible for maintenance through Transport Canada.

“We have a huge need for talent right now. As we bid on modification programs, we continue to need new people.”

He has visited the Mohawk Centre for Aviation Technology to meet with students. He says the sector offers exciting, well-paying jobs and the opportunity to earn extra qualifications that lead to higher salaries.

The company employs about 1,000 people. Its staffing in Halifax will grow by about 20 per cent over the next year.

Harding says he began in the industry as an avionics technician 16 years ago. He now leads a team of 250 technicians working on multiple maintenance programs.

“It has been a great career path for me. We offer many opportunities for anyone who wants to learn and grow. No one is limited to turning tools.”

Harding says IMP is excited about its growing partnership with Mohawk.

“The College is very open to feedback and working with us to meet our needs. The new facility is really, really impressive. I have visited many different schools and Mohawk’s facility is second to none.”

Denis Ranque completed the Aircraft Maintenance program in 2018 and has now returned to Mohawk for a year to complete the Avionics program.

He has been employed by Lake Central Air Services in Gravenhurst, which specializes in repairs, maintenance and modifications to survey aircraft. Ranque, who has his commercial pilot’s licence, wants to broaden his skill set to allow him to work on electronics systems.

He came to Canada from his home in Bolivia in order to follow his passion for aviation at Mohawk. He says he’s driven by the processes and procedures that ensure safety of aircraft.

“I felt very well-prepared by my time at Mohawk. The faculty is so up to date in the industry and they always go above and beyond for their students. They’re really there for us.”

He says he was awed by the new facility when he returned in September.

“I feel so fortunate to learn in such an environment. It is state-of-the-art.”