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BCIT Leads the Way

March 9, 2011  By Paul Dixon

It was born in the basement of a building on the grounds of the Pacific National Exhibition in east-end Vancouver 53 years ago with three Second World War surplus Harvards as teaching aids.

It was born in the basement of a building on the grounds of the Pacific National Exhibition in east-end Vancouver 53 years ago with three Second World War surplus Harvards as teaching aids. Today, after more moves and name changes than a witness-protection plan refugee, the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) Aerospace Technology Campus has a home of its very own. Opened in 2007 under the flight path of YVR runway 26L, this glass slipper is the real thing.

BCIT’s 3,700-square-metre hangar houses an impressive array of fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft, including a WestJet 737-200 and a cutaway Bell 212. 


Gordon Turner joined BCIT as associate dean of aerospace programs in the spring of 2010 after more than 31 years with Air Canada. His challenge is to double the enrolment levels of the old facility to meet the well-documented current and future shortages in the work force, locally, nationally and internationally.

BCIT is the only institution in North America accredited under both Canadian and European standards – Transport Canada, Canadian Aviation Maintenance Council (Canadian Aviation Maintenance Council (CAMC) recently announced its new identity – Canadian Council for Aviation & Aerospace (CCAA)), and European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) – enabling graduates of the program to work immediately in many countries around the world. Turner is proud to point out that they have just passed their most recent EASA B2 audit with flying colours. “It seems,” he says, “that we are either in the midst of an audit, preparing for an audit or have just finished one.”

Tim Thiessen, Morgan Gameche and Halil Buberoglu on a Bell 212 in the hangar.
(Photos by Paul Dixon)


From its inception, the BCIT program has been based on the concepts of the aircraft apprenticeship training program developed by the RAF almost 90 years ago, which saw the students’ day split equally between academic and hands-on training. Students apply in the afternoon what they learned in the morning. Instructors are critical to the BCIT program. Unlike many post-secondary facilities in Canada and around the world that use professional lecturers to deliver classroom sessions, augmented by a handful of technical instructors in the shop, BCIT relies solely on people from the industry. While looking for people with a minimum of 10 years in the business, or as Gordon Turner says, “actively using their certification,” there’s a lot more to it than just holding the qualifications. “We’re looking for people who want to expand themselves and motivate young people. We’re not looking for people who see this as an escape from the industry. It’s not just the technology, it’s the people.”

In 2006, after nearly 30 years working for companies such as Island Helicopters and Frontier Helicopters, Liz MacFarlane, the first female graduate of the program, returned to BCIT as an instructor.

Jack Baryluk’s business card introduces him as BCIT Aerospace’s “industry and training consultant,” giving little clue to the positions he has filled in more than 20 years with the program, among them acting associate dean, business development lead, chief instructor and hangar manager. He joined BCIT in 1986 after 15 years with Okanagan Helicopters and Highland Helicopters. Coming out of high school, Baryluk wanted nothing more than to work on jet engines. Then, as he says, he discovered helicopters, which have “jet engines and everything else!”

As both Turner and Baryluk know, school-aged children looking at aviation as a potential career are almost exclusively focused on being a pilot, with little awareness that there are myriad of other career paths under the aviation banner. One of the biggest challenges in recent years has been attracting students during the pre-Olympic building boom in British Columbia, as many were drawn to construction jobs. According to Turner and Baryluk, although a significant proportion of BCIT Aerospace students do enrol directly from high school, even more have been in the work force and realize they need formal education to provide long-term stability in their lives.

Baryluk says it’s about “conditioning young people and getting them to be disciplined.” The instructors have to understand that Gen Y is very different from the baby boomers. According to Baryluk, the program only teaches three things “One, attitude, two, attitude, and three, attitude.” It’s about people who understand that they have to clean up after themselves. For Turner, it’s being able to follow instructions and understanding that all work is “done in accordance with.” He says the students who enter the program are already very motivated and when compared to the BCIT student population as a whole, discipline issues within the aerospace program are much lower. The same issues exist, just at a much lower ratio.

A new class starts every two weeks, year round, with 17 students to a class. Classes include avionics, maintenance, structures, aircraft gas turbine (jet engine) programs, overhaul training and repair, and aircraft mechanical component training. Currently graduating about 400 students a year, the goal is to double the current enrolment.

A large part of Baryluk’s job is promoting BCIT Aerospace around the province – from job fairs to trade shows to Rotary Club luncheons. The B.C. Ministry of Education’s own figures for student enrolment for the 2009/10 school year tell the story: 64,000 Grade 12 students leaving the system this year and only 42,000 Grade 1 students entering the education system. For Ontario, the numbers are 217,000 Grade 12 students and 132,000 Grade 1. That’s the future, with schools competing for students.

Jack Baryluk and the cutaway of a Bell 212. 


BCIT sponsors the largest air cadet squadron in British Columbia, 692 Squadron RCACS. Formerly sponsored by Air Canada, increased airport security in the post-9/11 world saw the squadron turned away from there and BCIT was fortunately placed to take them on. “It’s a great relationship,” says Turner. “Hundreds of cadets are exposed to the campus and our programs, and if we don’t get them, there are lots of brothers, sisters and friends out there who wouldn’t have heard about us otherwise.”

Trading on Vancouver’s well-established position as Canada’s gateway to the Pacific Rim, BCIT attracts a significant number of students from Asia as the aviation market expands. Dorset College in Vancouver partners with BCIT to provide a 26-week certificate in aircraft studies that will provide international students with the requisite language and math skills to enter the 16-month Aircraft Maintenance Engineer diploma program. At any time there are three or four classes of international students.

Today, after years of hand-me-down and borrowed facilities, the aerospace campus has its own purpose-built facility with offices, classrooms, workshops and the hangar all under one roof. The futuristic design was not based on whimsy, but is the result of a tightly constricted building footprint created by the proximity to a major arterial road on the front side with an environmentally sensitive marsh area of the Fraser River estuary to the rear and the vertical axis limited by the immediate proximity to the airport runway. The height restriction made the use of standard construction cranes impossible, necessitating the modification of equipment specific to the site. The north wing of the building is office space that is leased to aviation-related businesses, further cementing industry-school partnerships, while the south and west wings house the administration, library, cafeteria, 40 classrooms and 22 workshops. Classrooms are outfitted with the latest computers and data projectors, while wireless access points cover the entire campus as well as more than 1,000 VoIP data drops. As Baryluk says with evident pride, “Of all the facilities the program has been in over its lifetime, this is the first time the classrooms have been specifically designed as classrooms and not converted offices or storage space.”

The south and west wings make up two walls of the 3,700-square-metre hangar, housing the aircraft collection, dominated by the WestJet 737-200. For students in the workshops, it’s as close as you can get to a real-world work environment, minus the paycheque. The orientation of the hangar and the glass walls allow the students to see and hear aircraft taking off and landing and, in the case of “heavies,” feel them as they pass over.

Among the many aircraft in the hangar is a cutaway Bell 212 that was the brainchild of Baryluk. Visiting the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., some years before, he had been impressed by the display of a steam locomotive that had been cut in half longitudinally to reveal its inner workings. As he struggled to explain the workings and purpose of a mixing unit to a class, he thought, “I sure wish I had a cutaway like that locomotive.” It took more than five years for students and instructors working after class on their own time to complete the project. Everything works and, when powered by an electric motor, it clearly illustrates how every moving part of the aircraft is interconnected.

Chris Watts and Tanya Drake in a shop. Women make up seven per cent of BCIT Aerospace students. (Photos by Paul Dixon)


The close relationship with the aviation community is overwhelmingly apparent from the names of the corporate partners emblazoned on the walls as testament of their largesse. The provincial government provides the basic funding, with some specific grant funding from the federal government, but operational funding comes from tuition and the generosity of the professional community. One example is the Air Traffic Management and Integrated Security Simulation Laboratory (ATM Lab). The first air-traffic control training centre for a public post-secondary anywhere, it was the result of a $2 million investment from the federal Western Economic Diversification Fund, with equipment donated by Raytheon Canada. The library, as Baryluk takes great pride in telling a visitor, is the second-largest aviation library in North America, after the Smithsonian, thanks to the support of Royal Bank to create the space and Eurocopter Canada to maintain the collection.

BCIT Aerospace provides training in many ways, from licensing course material to other Canadian institutions to creating and delivering customized training off site or on site. Recently, Baryluk travelled to Europe to deliver the EASA B1 Module 12 on behalf of Lufthansa. Lufthansa doesn’t own or operate any helicopters, but their clients do and Lufthansa is part of the BCIT family. The future is now.


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