Mohawk opens Canada’s newest aerospace campus


Mohawk College opens 75,000 square foot facility at Hamilton International Airport with room to double student enrolment within three years

newest aerospace campus
A view of the hangar floor at Mohawk College’s new Aerospace Campus February 9, 2021 (supplied).

Mohawk College has opened Canada’s newest aerospace campus at Hamilton International Airport. The new Centre for Aviation Technology covers 75,000 square feet and offers enough space to double student enrolment within three years.

“This moment has been a long time coming,” said Ron McKerlie, President and Chief Executive Officer of Mohawk College. Mohawk started its aircraft maintenance programme in 2012 at the nearby Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum with students learning among the artifacts. It has since grown to 175 students spread across four sites.

The new Centre for Aviation Technology brings them together under one roof, with space for 350 students. It includes classrooms, labs, and a hangar big enough to house the school’s 16 aircraft. Though it lacks the architectural beauty of the British Columbia Institute of Technology Aerospace campus at Vancouver International Airport, the Mohawk hangar doors open airside to Hamilton International Airport, offering unparalleled access to an airside environment.

“The aviation programmes we deliver are world-class,” said McKerlie.

Collaborative approach

The new facility was built with the help of KF Aerospace. Before COVID hit, the company started the process of tripling the size of its operation in Hamilton. KF Aerospace’s new hangar, sized to handle wide-body aircraft, is adjacent to the college.

“When KF has a unique maintenance task being performed, there’s an opportunity for students to walk over watch and learn,” said George Miltenburg, the Associate Dean of Aviation. The site includes a new mini-manufacturing plant to make composite parts. “We intend that this space become a focal point for aerospace manufacturing in Hamilton.”

“This new and amazing centre for aviation technology will be critically important as we rebound from the COVID-inflicted crisis of the past year,” said Tracy Medve, the President of KF Aerospace. Her company has laid off 14% of its workforce as a result of the pandemic. “Demand for our cargo-conversion work has been steadily rising even amidst the pandemic and is expected to continue on as consumers have turned to more on-line shopping options. We know that we will need more well-trained skilled workers in the future.”

The new building includes a number of cutting-edge student facilities. That includes the country’s largest Boeing 737NG virtual training facility and a new avionics lab where flight decks can be modernized.

“Think of converting the dash of your old 1970 Beetle to a 2021 Tesla,” said Miltenburg.

Despite the pandemic, interest in the programme is still high, said Miltenburg. It will take a little more than two years for the new building to reach capacity.

Demand is high

“As aerospace continues to grow, so do the training needs,” said Cathie Puckering, the chief executive of Hamilton International Airport. “Having our customers on site, having our passenger and our cargo airlines on site, and now having students that are going to leave this programme and be hired immediately into that workforce is providing further strengthening of the strategic advantages that Hamilton has.”

“With the COVID pandemic, there’s a short supply of private aircraft and small corporate aircraft,” said Miltenburg. “So there’s a lot of work to be done on refurbishment, maintaining, and upgrading of those aircraft, even in the middle of COVID. And then going forward there’s certainly a big shift towards composite materials on aircraft.”

The new facility includes a composite manufacturing facility, allowing students to build and research new materials.

A Kelowna Flightcraft Convair 340 departs Vancouver International Airport February 19, 2020. The skills needed to maintain older aircraft are becoming more scarce, said Tracy Medve, President of KF Aerospace (Brett Ballah).

At the same time, however, the need to keep ageing aircraft in the air is growing.

“Our main cargo fleet is older than me,” said Medve with a laugh. “They were manufactured in the early 50s and they’re still operating today. Those airplanes require a very specialized skill. And so you can see part of the reason why KF has supported the structures lab at the college, because those skills are still required and are starting to be more and more scarce.”

Add to that a growing market for freighter conversions, and you have a large demand for AME skills. KF expects Mohawk graduates to interpret a blueprint and execute the work with minimal additional training.

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