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Located in northeastern British Columbia and known as Mile “0” of the Alaska Highway is Dawson Creek, a community of approximately 12,000 near the Alberta border that is home to Northern Lights College.


March 23, 2009
By BLAIR WATSON

Topics
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 Since 1981, more than 650 students have completed the Aircraft Maintenance Engineering – Basic Training program, with current projections of 45 to 50 graduates per year expected.


 

Located in northeastern British Columbia and known as Mile “0” of the Alaska Highway is Dawson Creek, a community of approximately 12,000 near the Alberta border that is home to Northern Lights College. NLC has seven campuses, including one in Dawson Creek called the Aerospace Centre where students receive basic aircraft maintenance engineer (AME) training and experienced AMEs undergo type training on a variety of helicopters.

Aviation has been a part of life in Dawson Creek for more than half a century. In the mid-1950s, a hangar was constructed in the area so that maintenance could be done on Sikorsky S-58s ferrying crews working on NORAD missile defence radar installations.

NLC was established in 1975 and six years later 16 students began AME training. Since 1981, the college has developed a solid reputation with aircraft operators and aerospace companies for training competent, entry-level AMEs as well as providing cost-effective type training.  Industry demand has been so strong that in 2004 the college hangar in Dawson Creek was doubled to 26,000 square feet to accommodate the growth. A video on the NLC website says, “What students see and experience in the hangar is what they find in the field. It is the positive responses from companies hiring our students that let us know our approach is working.”

NLC offers two aerospace programs: Aircraft Maintenance Engineering – Basic Training; and Aircraft Maintenance Engineering – Type Training. The former is a 15-month program designed for individuals wanting a Category M1 or M2 AME Licence. The latter involves type-training on eight different helicopter airframes – each course lasts 10 days – and five 5-day turbine engine courses. A major advantage of NLC’s type training courses is that Canadian employers do not have to send their AMEs to the U.S. to get qualified. The popularity of the courses initially offered by NLC resulted in the college adding helicopters to its fleet and expanding the program in response to operator needs.

Those wanting to become AMEs must satisfy the requirements in the Canadian Aviation Regulations (CARs) pertaining to Transport Canada-approved training, experience working on aircraft and performing other AME tasks, and the CARs exam when nearing completion of their experience component.  NLC’s AME basic training satisfies the training requirement and provides 1.5 years of the four-year experience requirement.

About 45 per cent of the training is in the classroom and the balance is practical experience working on the college’s fleet, which consists of a Robinson R44, MD500D, AS350D, Bell 205 and 206, and six fixed-wing airplanes. NLC type training is for the Bell 205A-1, 206 and 206L, and Eurocopter AS350B, B/A, B1, B2 and D airframes. The college also provides online electrical systems courses for the Bell 206 and Eurocopter AS350-series aircraft. 

NLC students enrolled in the Basic Training program also get the opportunity to interact with experienced AMEs who come to the college for type training. As many aviation professionals have found during their careers, making industry contacts is often key to obtaining employment, something that NLC facilitates for its AME students.

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 Industry demand has been so strong that in 2004 the college hangar in Dawson Creek was doubled to 26,000 square feet to accommodate the growth.  
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The Northern Lights College fleet consists of a Robinson R44, MD500D, Eurocopter AS350D, Bell 205 and 206, and six fixed-wing airplanes.


 

Intakes for Aircraft Maintenance Engineering – Basic Training are scheduled twice annually, in September and February. There are 17 openings and applicants must have at least a C+ mark in Grade 11 math, science (physics), and English, or equivalent courses recognized by the college. Additional information about the AME basic training program and type training courses is on the college’s website at www.nlc.bc.ca. Queries can be directed to Andy Cole, the Program Chair (an e-mail link is on the website). Cole graduated from the AME basic training program in 1983 and worked for Northern Mountain Helicopters and Okanagan Helicopters (now Canadian Helicopters) until 1990 when he began instructing at NLC. In 2001, he became AME department head at the college.

NLC advises potential program applicants that they need good study habits, the ability to manipulate small mechanical parts, good vision (colour blindness is not a concern), no serious allergies to petroleum products, balance while climbing tall ladders and work stands, and the ability to stand on a concrete floor for long periods of time.  A recommended optional activity is spending a week at an aircraft maintenance facility to get a basic understanding of what AMEs do for a living, and their work environment.

Currently, the total cost (tuition and fees) for the AME – Basic Training program is $5,538.  Considering that many experienced AMEs make in excess of $50,000 annually and thousands of new AMEs will be needed over the next decade as Baby Boomers retire, the NLC program provides an excellent return on investment. 

During the course, students must maintain a minimum grade of 70 per cent. Absenteeism cannot exceed 30 hours per semester and 90 hours over the three terms. The AME basic training culminates in four final exams pertaining to fixed- and rotary-wing airframes and piston and turbine engines. According to the NLC video, “By the time students graduate, they’ve completed 62 theory courses and 60 practical projects with more than half the time focused on hands-on training.” 

Since 1981, more than 650 students have completed the Aircraft Maintenance Engineering – Basic Training program, with current projections of 45 to 50 graduates per year expected. Graduates are employed at more than 150 commercial aircraft operators, including helicopter companies, in and outside of Canada  NLC-trained AMEs practise their craft not only as aircraft mechanics but as directors of maintenance, quality assurance managers, aircraft maintenance instructors, and trainers at aerospace companies.

NLC graduates also have opportunities to continue their education.  After graduating and getting their M1 or M2 AME licence, alumni can obtain a Bachelor of Technology (Technology Management) Degree. NLC has partnered with the Open University and British Columbia Institute of Technology to give AME graduates the opportunity to acquire the degree.

For the past 15 years, NLC-trained AMEs have been able to pursue an aviation Bachelor of Science degree through the University of North Dakota. According to the UND website, “This two-year program allows students with a two-year degree in aviation maintenance, avionics, electronics, dispatch, or other support services to complete a bachelor’s degree with an emphasis on management.”

NLC has also partnered with Okanagan College, which has a campus in Vernon, B.C. where basic AME training is also provided. The third and final term (14 weeks) of practical curriculum, which covers scheduled inspections, engine and component changes, and other aspects of aircraft maintenance, is completed at NLC’s Aerospace Centre in Dawson Creek.

Many Canadian postsecondary education institutions offer training to people from other countries and NLC is no exception. Last year, a group of aircraft mechanics from Venezuela, including the company director of maintenance and quality assurance manager, completed Bell 206 training in Dawson Creek. This was the second such group from the South American country; the first received NLC instruction in November 2007.  In addition to JetRanger maintenance training, college staff provided the Venezuelans with new cultural experiences including golfing, something they had never encountered.

The online NLC video states that there are 15 approved aircraft maintenance training schools in Canada.  It also says, “We believe that Northern Lights College is one of the best if not the best.”  Given the success of the AME training program and type training courses, the instructors and administration staff at Northern Lights College have every reason to be proud of what they have accomplished.

Aircraft Maintenance Engineering
– Training includes both theoretical  and practical courses. For a full list, go to the NLC website at http://www.nlc.bc.ca/
Theory of Flight
Blueprint and Parts
Aircraft Electricity
Non-Destructive Inspection
Tools for Aircraft Maintenance
Materials, Structures
Hydraulics
Regulations, Publications
Reciprocating Engines
Turbine Engines
Engine Auxiliary Systems
Propellers
Aircraft Handling, Inspection
Aircraft Controls, Rigging
Fuel, Environmental Systems
Landing Gear and Dynamic Drive Trains
Navigation and Communication
Aircraft Auxiliary Systems
Troubleshooting, Human Factors
Human Factors in AME  Training
Hand and Machine Tools
Rivet Installation
Aluminum Forming, Assembly, Repair
Structural Repair
Electrical Components, Circuits
Electrical Installations
Engine Maintenance
Engine Components
Safetying, Hydraulics
Control Rigging
Scheduled Inspections
Weight, Balance and Aircraft Handling
Engine Installation,Testing
Rotor Systems, Dynamic Balance
Hangar Support Facilities
AMO Audits
Airframe Auxiliary Systems
Landing Gear
Troubleshooting, Repair


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