The aerospace sector in the Central Okanagan is an industry that continues to evolve but has the potential for far greater growth, according to a study released this week by the Central Okanagan Development Commission.
The report reveals that of the 170 aerospace-related companies in B.C., about 30 of them are located in the Central Okanagan region.
It encompasses a diverse hub from the region’s largest employer, KF Aerospace with 700 employees, to communication systems and specialized manufacturers with less than 10 employees.
Related: KF Aerospace goes on hiring spree
But the report calls for greater cohesion and collaboration within the sector to create a cluster mentality, where within a geographic concentration of interconnected businesses, suppliers and associated institutions of a particular field work together to create a sustainable competitive advantage over other places.
The report, called the Central Okanagan Aerospace Core Competencies Study, Asset Map and Regional Database, was co-commissioned by Global Affairs Canada and the Kelowna International Airport (YLW).
The research was generated from more than 40 interviews with local aerospace companies, federal and provincial industry organizations, and post-secondary institutions.
Among its recommendations beyond enhancing the local industry cluster mentality are to support the establishment and operation of the Learning Factory, an advanced composites research initiative co-sponsored by UBC Okanagan, the Composites Research Network and the Avcorp Group.
The consortium is exploring the development of a commercial production facility for composite aircraft parts. The technology developed from the Learning Factory research is anticipated to have application use in other manufacturing processes and industries.
The report also calls for a feasibility study to be commissioned in partnership with the airport and other regional stakeholders for creation of a YLW Aerospace Campus.
This campus would, in addition to being providers of aerospace products and services, also include a public education component that highlights the history of aerospace in the region, ongoing research in the field, and promote community-oriented programs such as the Kelowna Flying Club and potentially short-term pilot training programs for specialty aircraft such as the Cessna Cirrus.
The report acknowledges since a similar study was commissioned in 2007, there has been little substantive change within the regional aerospace industry, while the combined maturation of local post-secondary institutions and the technology sector during that time has given rise to opportunities for significant growth and foreign direct investment.
Hence phrases like “encourage,” “develop,” “facilitate,” “support” and “commission” are used with the report recommendations, meaning a catalyst is needed to make those things happen and allow the aerospace industry to achieve a greater potential than currently exists.
“Realizing these opportunities requires a confluence of catalysts as well as a proactive local industry,” said the report. “Cluster development is recognized as a key to the growth of the aerospace sector.”
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