One of the things I love most about my role as editor of Helicopters magazine is getting out in the field and soaking up the atmosphere of a particular operator or manufacturing facility making a strong contribution to Canadian aviation and aerospace.
By Matt Nicholls
It provides me with a rare opportunity to see the inner workings of an organization and understand the mentality and scope of its processes, opportunities and impact. It also gives me a chance to meet individual employees and see how their philosophies might relate to other companies in Canada – lessons learned that provide real benefit to other operations.
Recently, I had the chance to tour the Fleet Canada facility in Fort Erie, Ont., and I was impressed with its accomplishments and its ability to adapt to changing market conditions in the aerospace world.
Tucked away on the shores of Lake Erie far away from traditional aerospace hubs that garner significantly more attention, Fleet boasts a rich history few aerospace companies can match. With more than 80 years producing aircraft and aerospace parts on some of the world’s most iconic aircraft, Fleet has undergone a unique transformation that has positioned itself as one of the finest highly skilled parts shops in the country.
As outlined in “Enhancing the Fleet,” on page 19, this is a Canadian success story – a homegrown corporation building parts for aircraft making a difference here and abroad. Fleet’s main fixed-wing program is to provide key parts to Viking Air’s Twin Otter, the versatile, in-demand turboprop desired by many international operators and governments for its dependability and adaptability to a wide variety of configurations and operations. Fleet has perfected several processes for the Twin Otter, including its unique bonded wingskin.
On the rotary side of the equation, Fleet’s main priority is its Boeing CH-47 program. Fleet manufactures the front cockpit nose enclosure, pylons and platforms for the aircraft. Boeing supplies Chinooks to militaries all over the world, including the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF).
In an industry focused on the latest and greatest technological advancements to achieve optimum results, Fleet is a throwback – the company has implemented processes, developed handcrafted machines and carefully organized its spacious 500,000 sq. ft. manufacturing facility in such a way to produce optimum results. It’s a commitment to craftsmanship versus focusing on mass production – the goal is optimum quality.
“No, this does not mean we are state-of-the-art,” notes Fleet’s Marika Kozachenko, the company’s business development manager. “But it does mean we are good at what we do at the rates that we do them.”
An excellent example is the production of the “dog house” composite piece for the Chinook. If you were going to do 20 of those a month, Kozachenko says, you would need specialty laser systems, processes and tools that they have at Airbus. “But our people know what to do and can do as good a job. And the nice thing is when you are not doing it all by machine, you don’t have to use as much product. It’s a little different when humans can do it by hand.”
It’s also nice when you have a dedicated, loyal workforce that is passionate about the products it is producing. Fleet has but 160 staff, but they are dedicated to their core programs – so much so, in fact, that for years, they craved the opportunity to get a CH-47 on site for a close-up-look and celebration of the finished product. That chance came earlier this year, when 450 Squadron in Petawawa brought up a Chinook for the company’s 10th anniversary celebration – a decade celebrating the “new” incarnation of Fleet.
The RCAF’s 1 Wing 450 Squadron is home to Canada’s Chinook squadron.
“It was such a wonderful celebration, so nice to have the Chinook here,” Kozachenko says. Fleet employees and their families celebrated the day and got up-close-and-personal with the aircraft they help create.
So, how do passionate employees show their gratitude? With a special photo and “Thank you to the RCAF 450 Squadron” of course, recognizing the efforts made by our troops.
It’s this kind of passion and commitment that drives the Fleet Canada team to provide the finest quality components for its customers – a recipe that certainly works down Fort Erie way.