For four decades, the campus was based at Buttonville Municipal Airport in Markham, Ont. and it functioned well. The impending closure of the airport, however, meant a new path was needed.
The new location needed to be part of a growing aerospace hub able to provide flexibility and growth opportunities while still giving it the space to further develop as one of Canada’s leading post-secondary aviation schools. It also needed to be part of a dynamic, highly functional airport – one that had strong ties to the community and also offered close proximity to other educational institutions for future academic partnerships.
Finally, there needed to be an intangible quality – an “it just feels right” feeling, a sense of belonging, a sense of home. Fortunately, it didn’t take the relocation team long to realize “home” would be the Peterborough Airport.
“When we started the process, we drew a circle of potential locations with Buttonville in the middle of the map,” notes Lynne McMullen, Seneca’s director of business development, who was aviation chair at the time. “One of the things that impressed me most about Peterborough was the sense of appreciation for the area – the city embraced the airport as an economic driver.” Here, decision makers such as the City of Peterborough, as well as Peterborough Economic Development (the regional economic development agency), recognize the benefit of including the airport in the community.
Having just completed $28.6 million in upgrades to the airport with funding from municipal, provincial and federal governments – the addition of an aviation industrial park, air terminal building, maintenance facility, increasing the length of the runway from 5,000 to 7,000 ft. and more – the Peterborough hub was positioning itself as a player in the Canadian aerospace community. Adding a premier academic institution like Seneca was an important part of the process, completing the education pillar.
McMullen fondly recalls one of her first “ah ha” moments when evaluating the site. “When I got there, I saw a busload of children in the airport having lunch together – and people of all ages coming in to have their lunch,” she says. “The (Gardens & Fields) restaurant was so popular; this was a destination inside the airport. This is something that I liked for our students because they spend so much time here.”
Seneca completed its move in late 2012 and opened for business in January 2013. Since that time, the college has flourished with a dramatic increase in flight movements, attendance and a special synergy with other airport tenants. There’s a kinetic buzz around campus and McMullen couldn’t be happier – and was beaming throughout a recent tour with Wings.
The campus is a sight to behold, an aviation school ready to inspire the next generation of fixed-wing pilots. Bright, well-organized and self contained, the new space includes a bright, spacious hangar capable of housing 13 aircraft, two state-of-the-art academic classrooms, 10 simulators (including a CRJ 200 regional jet, Redbird crosswind simulator and B200 turboprop), active learning classrooms, flight dispatch and operations offices, flight briefing rooms, a student lounge and more. There’s also additional space to grow for future expansion.
“We couldn’t be happier, it is really working out for us,” McMullen says. “The students are thriving, the program is thriving. I think that it’s great for the students to see an aviation hub working together, working with the city – we’re not just individual businesses here.”
Building for the future
A sense of community, a family-oriented entrepreneurial spirit, a friendly atmosphere, individual businesses working together to drive the future success of the airport and the developing Peterborough aerospace hub. It’s the overriding philosophy all partners at the airport share and it’s something Rhonda Keenan, president and CEO, Peterborough Economic Development, maintains is unique to her city.
“It may sound cliché, but we really are like a family here,” Keenan told Wings. “When you think about the individual businesses, many are family-owned and operated . . . this type of entrepreneurial spirit and camaraderie occurs at the airport. We have close-knit relationships and this has really helped us grow.”
Trent Gervais, airport manager of the Peterborough Airport and chief executive of on site aviation management firm Loomex Group, agrees. With the expansion of the airport complete, a solid operating structure in place and tenants such as Seneca College, Flying Colours, KADEX Aircraft Parts & Service and others thriving, the focus now is on developing the Peterborough aerospace footprint to attract new players.
“There are many growth opportunities for us,” Gervais says, “and when you look at how we are developing, seeing the number of aircraft movements jump from 10,000 to just shy of 60,000 this year – a lot is happening. And it’s not just Flying Colours, it’s different categories across the board. Business travel is increasing, people are coming in and out for meetings.
“We’re also working on our east development project which is across from Flying Colours to have more service land ready to go. The land we did develop is almost full. What we offer here for potential new tenants is fully serviced land – hydro, gas, fibre, sewer and water. We are so flexible in the size of land you want, we can work with anyone that is ready to develop.”
One of goals on the table, Gervais notes, is boosting the maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) footprint. Flying Colours speaks for itself in this realm. The family-owned completions and MRO specialist has established itself as one of Canada’s fastest-growing aerospace companies, with some 445 employees at three facilities worldwide – 250 at its 150,000 sq. ft. Peterborough headquarters; 170 at its 65,000 sq. ft. St. Louis, Mo. completions facility; and 25 at its Bombardier service facility at Seletar Airport in Singapore. Flying Colours has room to develop – and has some exciting projects on the horizon – but Gervais is confident more MRO opportunities are out there.
“MRO has been a very good pillar for us and we are trying to attract more MRO business here – it makes sense,” he says. “We are ideally situated between Toronto and Ottawa, have the longest runway between the two cities save for the military base in Trenton, Ont. and we can accept a Boeing 737 or Airbus A320.”
Showing them how to soar
The MRO space has certainly been a good fit for Flying Colours, a great example of a small Canadian aerospace firm expanding on the international stage. What started out as the hometown Gillespie family’s “Mom and Pop” family-owned paint shop in the 1960s, has morphed into a leading global aviation services provider, offering not only paint services but also specialized completion, MRO, avionics, engineering and aircraft interior services.
Founder, president and CEO John Gillespie keeps close watch over the business but it’s very much a family affair – there are at least half a dozen family members driving its development and growth.
“If you approach the average reader of your magazine and say what do you know about Flying Colours, the typical response would be that we are a paint shop,” notes Gary Wood, corporate sales and marketing at Flying Colours. “But there’s a multitude of skillsets here that we have – and we’re growing. We are a full-service facility here that does a little bit of everything. Completions, interior refurbishment, conversions, MRO, external paint, avionics upgrades – we are trying to be all things to all people. We don’t take no for an answer.”
Flying Colours’ customer base is truly international and the Canadian footprint is very much a small part of the makeup. Clients are distributed pretty much everywhere, Woods notes, and while the economic slowdown may have affected some other parts of the industry, Flying Colours is still thriving. In fact, when Wings toured the facility, aircraft from Great Britain, Qatar, China and Canada were on site, with one just being shipped to the Isle of Man.
And there’s plenty more to come in the months and years ahead. A $20.2 million expansion for a 100,000 square-foot hangar was announced last April that will enable Flying Colours Corp. to take on work for larger airplanes and will help the company address the increasing global demand for customized aircraft retrofitting.
The firm has had a special relationship with Bombardier over the years. For example, since 2006, Flying Colours’ CRJ ExecLiner program has brought to market some 18 aircraft in various configurations including full VIP, shuttle, special mission and more. On its Challenger 850 completions program, which began in 2008, some 15 aircraft have been delivered to date and an additional seven have been delivered on the CRJ 700 special mission program. Several special completions projects have also been made on the Global G5000, G6000, G7000 and G8000 aircraft.
Flying Colours has a special relationship with Canada’s Bombardier Aerospace, but its OEM partnerships do not stop there. The company has refurbishments, green aircraft completions and paint contracts with a wide selections of OEMs including Gulfstream, Cessna, Dassault Falcon, Beechcraft, Sikorsky, Airbus for both fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft, along with an arms length number of certification approvals. On the avionics side, Honeywell and Rockwell Collins are key clients.
“We’ve even painted one of the four Challengers the prime minister flies around in,” Wood says with a smile. “Good bad or indifferent, he is carrying our paint. So, when you look at our customer base, it’s a little bit of everything – and it’s all over the globe. Our reach is pretty significant.”
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A family affair part two
Though they may not have the caché of a Flying Colours, KADEX Aircraft Parts & Service has also made a name for itself on the Canadian aerospace scene. And like Flying Colours, this family-run business has benefitted from its location at the Peterborough Airport due to its cost effectiveness and efficiencies.
Some 20 employees work at the KADEX facility at the Peterborough Airport which spans some 24,000 sq. ft. – 18,000 of which is a well-organized mini warehouse of more than 55,000 parts from more than 100 manufacturers around the globe.
The KADEX team gets some 300 quotes a day from 500 active customers around the world, so offering maintenance and technical support to operators is paramount.
A second location in Calgary caters to a western customer base. Customers span a variety of aviation realms including AMOs, airlines, charters, Medevac services and helicopter transport fleets. Key Canadian commercial fixed-wing clients include WestJet, Air Canada Express, Air Inuit and Pacific Coastal Airlines.
Founded by former Transport Canada inspector and commercial pilot John Lavery in 1994, KADEX reflects the qualities that make the Peterborough hub so successful – resilient, efficient and adaptable. Like Flying Colours, the family business has strong ties to the community and the airport. The team utilizes several shipping services, including FedEx, UPS and Purolator. In addition to a number of key suppliers, KADEX recently became the national distributor for all AeroShell products and continues to set its sights on future growth and expansion.
“We started with just three people – John, Ken Blow (vice-president/technical support) and Glenda (John’s wife, COO/office manager),” notes Jordan Lavery, John and Glenda’s son and outside sales and business development manager.
“To be honest, I don’t think we would have been this successful if we were based in Toronto. Peterborough has been a solid choice for this company.”
A look to the future
While Flying Colours, KADEX and educational institutions such as Seneca College have flourished in Peterborough, challenges remain in attracting new tenants. The biggest snafu, notes Gervais, is distance.
Peterborough is isolated from other aerospace clusters, however the extension of the 407 highway to highway 115 by 2020 will help better connect the city to the GTA. Gervais also points out that the GO bus system is very efficient in connecting people as well, and students utilize it often.
“The 407 is coming very soon,” Gervais says, “and if you travel the new part of the highway that just opened up, it has shaved 25 minutes off my drive. So, there will be an ease in getting here.”
Distance aside the lower cost of living in Peterborough, recreational lifestyle, strong commitment to health and community living – they’re all benefits that make the city an attractive option for potential aerospace companies, AMEs and research and development leaders.
And with two dynamic academic institutions in Trent University and Fleming College, the potential for R&D opportunities is endless.
The development of the Trent Research and Innovation Park at Trent University – a clean technology research centre connected to Trent University on 85 acres of land set to open in 2018 – is considered to be a significant economic driver for the community.
“In the end, it comes down to potential,” Gervais says. “We have overcome a lot here. This site used to be a landfill back in the 1960s. So everything we have had to do from remediating garbage and cleaning it up . . . the costs have been fairly high, but as a group, we have come up with ways to keep our costs down.
“We work hard as a team, with Peterborough Economic Development to raise the visibility of the airport. We have a vested interest in it because we see it succeeding and we’re taxpayers in the city. It’s been a great model that has worked for everybody. It’s a model everyone should look at.”