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Kelowna  

45 years of Flightcraft

New name, new vision.

Kelowna Flightcraft announced earlier this week after 45 years the company was rebranding itself KF Aerospace.

With the name and logo change comes other changes...exciting changes according to company human relations director Grant Stevens.

Last February the company announced it had lost the cargo contract for both Purolator and Canada Post, contracts it had held for about 38 years.

That contract expired at the end of last month.

During a tour of the Kelowna operation Thursday Stevens teased of a new contract to be announced shortly.

"We have some plans in place. We're actually hoping to make a public announcement Monday or Tuesday of next week," said Stevens.

"We are working on some work that will bring us both national cargo flying and international cargo flying. We are hoping to put the final business plan into action starting on Monday. That's all I'm really allowed to give you."

Stevens said KF Aerospace hopes to start that service in May.

While the company was forced to issue layoff notices to some employees as a result of the lost contract and the change in business, Stevens said an uptick in business means KF Aerospace will be adding to the workforce.

"Business has been growing. We have more maintenance work. We're opening up another hanger here in Kelowna so we've been adding more maintenance staff for that. We've been adding staff in Toronto for the cargo operation and we're expanding our Hamilton operation as well," said Stevens.

"We had just under a thousand employees last year. We've dipped down but we'll be up near 1,000 employees in the next two or three months."

It's a far cry from the early days when Barry Lapointe first started Kelowna Flightcraft as a one man operation 45 years ago.

Lapointe started Kelowna Flightcraft in 1970 when he left his job in Vancouver and founded the operation.

Jim Rogers made it a two man operation when he joined Lapointe a year later.

In 45 years Lapointe has taken that small company that fixed airplanes into the largest private employer in Kelowna which employs about 600 and adds approximately $50 million a year into the local economy.

In 1974 Flightcraft got into flight operations with some forestry patrols and now the company leases or owns 80 to 90 planes around the world with revenues of about $250 million annually.

Stevens said the company dabbled in sales and servicing of smaller airplanes during the early years.

It wasn't until the mid 1980s that Stevens said they got into some of the bigger planes.

"Barry's first big break in this business was getting a call from Purolator Courier almost 38 years ago saying do you think you can help us out moving some freight," said Stevens.

"From there we've developed the business of Purolator Courier and we've grown the airplanes. Where they used to move 50,000 to 100,000 pounds of freight a night (now they're) moving a million pounds of freight a night."

Another iteration of the company was a venture called Greyhound Air, a discount airline Lapointe launched at the same time WestJet was getting off the ground.

"Through circumstances Greyhound was bought by Laidlaw and decided they didn't want to be in the airline business. That left Barry with a number of airplanes available to put into other services."

In the 1990s and early 2000s Flightcraft earned a number of military contracts and in 2005 it won the contract for military flight training in Manitoba.

"That was a big, big jump for the company back then. We trained about 80 per cent of the Royal Canadian Airforce pilots. It was a large, stable contract worth $1.8 billion over those 22 years."

In 2005 Lapointe launched the largest cargo aircraft in Canada which were the DC-10s to support Canada Post.

"Another big part of our business was securing a contract with WestJet three years ago doing maintenance on their 737s...we just signed an extension for that so we have a few more years," said Stevens.

"We are doing some additional projects for them on interior modifications and that sort of stuff."

KF Aerospace is probably best known in Kelowna for its airplane maintenance work. The company has five large hangers and a massive repair shop just north of the main terminal at Kelowna International Airport.

Each hanger is able to accommodate two or three planes at any one time and usually all are brimming to capacity.

Stevens said they easily repair, maintain, inspect and paint more than 150 planes every year.

Probably the most famous plane to touch down at KF Aerospace was an Ansett 767 owned by Mark Cuban and the Dallas Mavericks.

The company has also done service work for planes owned by such luminaries as Microsoft co-founder and Seattle Seahawks owner Paul Allen and business mogul Donald Trump.

"Those folks also have spectacular aircraft and like to travel in style so those were good, challenging projects for us."

The largest plane was a DC-10 which stopped by for a visit to commemorate completion of the airport runway extension in 2008.

As for the change from Kelowna Flightcraft to KF Aerospace after 45 years, Stevens said it came about after the loss of the Purolator and Canada Post contracts.

He said the company went through a strategic planning exercise to determine its strengths and weaknesses and to determine where it wanted to go in the future.

The new name said Stevens will allow the company to become more well known nationally and internationally.

"We took the KF to keep a hook into the history of the company. KF Aerospace speaks to the fact we do all things aerospace," said Stevens in explaining the new name.

"It's also a more global name so KF Aerospace allows us to go global into the European and Asian markets a little bit easier."

Stevens said everything is now under one umbrella.

That includes maintenance and engineering, aircraft leasing, defence services, training pilots, looking after fixed wing search and rescue aircraft and flying for cargo services.

As the world and technology changes, the next 45 years will surely provide as many twists and changes as the first 45.

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