Some people in West Kelowna may not like it, but Mayor Doug Findlater welcomes his community gaining a reputation as the helicopter capital of B.C.
While the chopper noise from flying overhead may be annoying to some, for the mayor it means creating new jobs in his community and improving the local tax base that pays for district services.
“That fact we are a helicopter community may be lost up against the wine industry or tourism,” Findlater noted. “But the helicopter industry base is putting West Kelowna on the map and Alpine has a lot to do with that.”
Findlater made the comments at the official opening of the new 18,000 sq.ft. manufacturing facility for helicopter parts that Alpine Aerotech, at 1435 Stevens Road in West Kelowna, has developed to complement Alpine’s helicopter service plant off Highway 97 also in West Kelowna.
Jim Campbell, president of Alpine Aerotech, said for years the manufacturing side of their business was squeezed for space around the helicopter service facility. “We always had to sneak around the helicopters in for servicing to find space to work,” Campbell said.
He said Alpine Aerotech’s new facility is fitting to complement the company’s growing role in the Okanagan aviation sector, acquiring a reputation across North America for its Bell helicopter, leasing, maintenance and research and development work.
The new plant’s expansion was built by Argus Properties.
Campbell said Alpine Aerotech now employs more than 100 skilled aviation workers, something he hopes will increase as Premier Christy Clark’s economic hopes for liquified natural gas exploration and development begin to take hold in northern B.C.
Clark, the Westside-Kelowna MLA, was on hand at the official opening to offer her enthusiasm and excitement about Alpine Aerotech’s expansion and the role it and other companies will play in LNG’s long-term economic prospects, creating jobs beyond just in northern B.C.
Clark said the job and skill needs to create jobs for natural gas exploration and refining will require a variety of skills and services that can be supplied by emerging companies such as Alpine Helicopters and Alpine Aerotech throughout the province, making the commitment as well that those jobs will go first to British Columbians.
“The potential for creating new jobs from LNG will be spread out across the province and provide opportunities for companies like Alpine Aerotech,” Clark said.
The premier said Alpine may be something of a secret locally, but in the international helicopter industry it is known for its invention, imagination and innovation.
One such example of that was illustrated by the premier as she sat in a long-line seat developed to allow helicopter pilots to lean to one side for a better visual sightline when picking up or depositing heavy loads without having to unbuckle their seat belts, a new innovation that was a result of a pilot fatality in a helicopter crash.
Campbell said Alpine currently is servicing helicopters from New Guinea, Australia, England, Brazil and Africa, an indication of the global aspect of his industry and the potential it offers for Alpine Autotech’s future growth.