Founded in 1998, Canadian North is a small airline whose headquarters is based in Calgary. The airline operates passenger and cargo flights on a fleet of Boeing 737 and DHC-8 aircraft. From the popular 737-300 to the versatile 737-200 combi aircraft which is capable of landing on gravel runways, Canadian North Airlines is well suited to handle northern flying.
The airline flies to various destinations across Canada, flying to remote communities in the Northwest Territories as well as the Arctic. These airports can be challenging to fly into, but thankfully CN flights offer a lifeline to these very remote places by delivering all sorts of cargo for the local communities.
Operating up to 70+ flights per day as well as any special charters that may arise the airline is a busy place to work, with around 700 people are lucky enough to work here.
I was lucky enough to meet Rob and Katie who work in the Canadian North maintenance hangar and was eager to find out more.
What is your job?
I am the Maintenance Training Manager here at Canadian North. I am responsible to ensure all of our maintenance employees are in compliance with Transport Canada in regards to Regulatory, Human Factors and Technical training. This includes all of our Aircraft Maintenance Engineers at all four of our maintenance bases in Edmonton, Calgary, Yellowknife and Iqaluit. Since we are both an Approved Maintenance Organization and an Air Operator I am also required to ensure that all of our pilots receive some semblance of maintenance training known as Elementary Work – this authorization will allow all trained pilots to perform basic maintenance tasks when required without the assistance of a maintenance engineer.
What are the daily operating challenges Canadian North faces?
Relative to industry, Canadian North faces unique challenges other airlines may never encounter. Aside for a short summer reprieve, our engineers must work in some trying conditions up north. A routine operation such as a tire change is exacerbated in -30 degree weather, and this is not including wind chill! Needless to say not all maintenance tasks are carried out in the comfort of a warm hangar. Another challenge would be travel to remote bases and northern locales. Consideration must be given to either having an engineer fly en-route with the aircraft or stationed remotely as required. I’m sure there are other daily operational challenges, but dealing with unpredictable and harsh conditions would be foremost to both maintenance and flight crews.
What is an average working day like in the maintenance hanger?
Working as a Canadian North aircraft maintenance engineer is definitely an on-your-toes position. The Line Maintenance crews deal with arrivals, departures, cargo conversions and daily line checks and maintenance inspections. They must always be mindful of departures in regards to customer satisfaction and overall on-time-performance. A 24 hour snapshot of YEG line maintenance could easily be comprised of 10 turns, 5 departure and 5 arrival flights! Heavy Maintenance operations is just as busy with our very first B737-300 C check almost completed and an incoming B737-300 slated for mid-October.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
Managing the training profiles of 170+ maintenance staff plus overseeing all training for 140 pilots in the way of Elementary Work and Independent Inspections is challenging if not rewarding. My job affords me the opportunity to travel to remote locations and areas that most people do not get to see and I am grateful for that. Dealing with a disparate set of people, personalities and departments at all four of our maintenance bases, in my opinion, is more of reward than it is a challenge.
What makes Canadian North unique?
Our unique ability to land our B737-200 to land on any surface (e.g. frozen lakes, tundra, gravel or paved runways) is pretty cool. Our combi B737-200 and DHC-8 fleet allows us to provide both passengers and much-needed cargo to northern locations which do not have access to any other transport means in the winter months. The Canadian North polar bear under the midnight sun logo is very unique and identifiable. For the 6+ years I’ve worked here the company has always reinforced the ideals of family and lifestyle balance – pretty proud to be a CN employee that’s for sure!
Flying up in the Arctic is challenging how do does the airline make sure its winter ready?
If any of our aircraft is parked outdoors overnight the GPU and GHU will definitely be hooked up and operational. It is not uncommon, especially in sub-zero temperatures, for the maintenance staff to do systematic engine runs for 15-20 minutes to ensure the aircraft is ready for the next day’s flying. The APU shall be up and running continuously at temperatures of -20 or colder. There may be times where our aircraft may be sitting for multiple days up north and these are some of the steps in place to ensure our aircraft are operationally sound and serviceable.
How is the airlines fleet adapted to fly in to these remote locations?
The B737-200 is a great example of how the airline and their fleet have been adapted to fly into these remote locations. The B737-200 is the largest and only aircraft of its size that is capable of flying onto ice and gravel runways. A few modifications have enabled this to be possible. Firstly, a gravel kit is fitted to our fleet – this consists of a gravel deflector which is mounted to the front nose gear and vortex displacers which are fitted onto each engine. These displacers force bleed air out of the vortex tubes which prevent any gravel from being ingested into either of the PW JT8D-17 engines.
One B737-200 and two B737-300 in our fleet have also been modified as Combi aircraft. The modification is basically a 12’ x 8’ cutout on the LH forward fuselage retrofitted with a hydraulically powered door. This enables Canadian North to efficiently transport passengers and/or cargo on the same aircraft in multiple combi configurations, including full PAX or full cargo as required.