Kelowna Flightcraft Group of Companies


Founded in 1970, the Kelowna Flightcraft Group of Companies deals in three business areas. First is Kelowna Flightcraft (KF), the award-winning maintenance division that operates out of two, full-service facilities in Kelowna, B.C. and Hamilton, Ontario. Powered by 750 skilled and experienced staff, KF’s MRO operations maintain, modify and engineer aircraft and components, providing a one-stop shop for corporate, commercial and military aviation industries worldwide.

The second area of business is in cargo air charter. This division, Kelowna Flightcraft Air Charter Ltd. (KFACL), is the exclusive air cargo carrier for Purolator Courier Ltd. and also provides dedicated cargo service for Canada Post. With the dedication of over 135 flight operations staff, KFACL ships up to 900,000 pounds of freight nightly on a fleet of DC-10s, B727s and CV-580s.

Finally, Kelowna Flightcraft has a subsidiary called Allied Wings, which hosts the Canadian Forces Contracted Flying Training and Support program, under contract with the federal government. Located in Southport, Manitoba, the facility, called Canada Wings Aviation Training Centre, is located near Winnipeg and is marketed internationally.

Taking off

As a large, 40-year-old-company, Kelowna Flightcraft has learned what it takes to run a well-oiled business. But like any giant, Kelowna had to start somewhere. That starting point was with Barry Lapointe, a Vancouver-born gentleman who attended the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT), graduating from the Aircraft Mechanic Engineer (AME) course with honours.

After finishing his commercial pilot’s license in 1967, Lapointe worked his way up through various small air-charter companies. Shortly after, Lapointe decided to pursue his entrepreneurial spirit and open his own business. He moved to the Okanagan Valley and, together with Jim Rogers, founded Kelowna Flightcraft in 1970. Both Lapointe and Rogers saw the need for aircraft maintenance in that region, and that’s what they started out to do. Initially performing inspection checks, maintenance and other tasks on assorted small aircrafts, KF was operating out of the back of a truck.

It wasn’t until a decade later that KF expanded its services to include commercial courier and charter services. KFACL got off the ground in the 1980s, but got its break when it was approached to be the exclusive air cargo carrier for Purolator Courier. For the last 20-plus years, KFACL has flown its fleet of Boeing 727s and Convair 580s to move literally tonnes of freight, daily. Just two years ago, the company built a new courier relationship with Canada Post, using the two largest dedicated freighters in Canada (DC10-30F) to get the job done.  

As for the Air Force training facility, KF led an all-Canadian team to bid on the Canadian Forces Contracted Flying Training and Support (CFTS) contract in 2002. This included CHL, B&M and Atlantis to provide a turn-key operation for the Canadian Air Force. In 2005, KF was awarded the 22-year, $1.8-billion contract as the prime contractor.

In all likelihood, Lapointe didn’t know what the company would become, until everything was achieved. Even now, the company continues to grow in Kelowna. The base has been expanded to include hangars, engine and landing gear ghop facilities so KF can perform heavy maintenance and/or modifications on over 80 aircrafts annually.

What once was a single AME has now grown to over 1000 employees, a fleet of over 50 aircrafts and significant operations across Canada. These include three main bases in Kelowna, Hamilton and Southport (Portage la Prairie), and as well as nine satellite bases from Vancouver, B.C. to St. John’s, NFLD.

Secret to success

According to Ralph Wegner, director at Kelowna Flightcraft, the group of companies is successful for a few reasons: quality, reliability and service. “Wherever possible, we take control of our own supply chain,” he says. “The classic example is doing our own flying, as well as maintaining our fleet, instead of bringing in a third party. We do our own jet engine maintenance and landing gear maintenance. We even do our own pilot and mechanic training. That control of critical supply enables us to control costs, quality of work and timing.”

If you work in the aviation industry, timing is a huge priority, and Kelowna Flightcraft is no exception. “Our reliability on the Purolator network is 99.4 per cent,” says Wegner. “So, we arrive on time 99.4 per cent of the time—nobody touches that record. It’s great because our other customers see it, even the customers on the maintenance side. When we place a competitive bid for maintenance work, we win a lot of them—not because we’re the cheapest, but because we have the quality behind us, and the most reliable delivery. With passenger service, for example, if we don’t get the aircraft out of the hangar on time, the cost to the airline is horrendous; they have to get a spare aircraft, and they might not even have one around. It’s crucial to deliver on time.”

Timeliness boils down to respect for the customer, whether it’s getting executive charter flights in on time, meeting aircraft maintenance deadlines or shipping Canadian goods as soon as possible. “We are customer focused,” Wegner adds. “We listen to [our clients] and do what it takes to achieve their goals. We have had instances where we deliver ahead of time and the customer is tickled pink because, suddenly, they have extra unplanned capacity, which is a bonus for them.”

Down the runway

Aviation exists within a regulatory environment that is always evolving. That’s why Kelowna Flightcraft is careful not to plan too far in advance. “We plan out six months in the aviation business, because there is always something coming up,” says Wegner.

Interestingly, the company takes the frequent changes and works with them to help its own and other customers’ airplanes. Take noise abatement requirements, for example, “in a joint effort with a Seattle-based company, Kelowna Flightcraft developed a noise abatement kit for the Boeing 727s,” Wegner boasts. “We have also done a lot of avionics works to upgrade the cockpit, in response to increasing demands for electronic advancements for collision avoidance and enhanced radars—we take out the old analogue gauges and replacing with digital upgrades. Our people develop the equipment and we install it ourselves, and then do retrofits for customers as well.”

If Wegner has to guess where the company would be in a few years, he suspects the 727 fleet might be replaced with another, more recent aircraft. “But things change quickly and not always predictably,” he maintains. “Another part of our success is being able to respond quickly to challenges that arise. Even with 1000 employees, we are able to turn on a dime.”

Kelowna Flightcraft truly offers its clients a one-stop service shop. The company can fly, maintain, modify, engineer, paint and train both crew and mechanics. For its offerings, as well as its commitment to a job well done, Kelowna Flightcraft will no doubt see another 40 years of success.