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Soaring Above Expectations


Above: Yellow Thunder flying over the Nav Canada Tower. Photo source: The Alberta International Airshow

The annual Alberta International Airshow is an exciting event for all ages, but its mission and vision go far beyond the thrill of the aircraft and aerial displays. The show and its producers aim to change and challenge the province through the many – many – benefits of aerospace and aviation.

Richard Skermer, president and CEO of the Alberta International Airshow, describes why these industries are such a natural fit for the province.

“Alberta has always been instrumental in aerospace and aviation, and this is what helped us open the North. Since we are the northernmost city in North America, we are the shortest point to a lot of places on the globe. Alberta is a natural gathering place with trade routes and that has potential for jobs in every industry.”

The Alberta International Airshow is more than just an event; it’s a non-profit show that promotes the aviation industry and commemorates the area’s deep-rooted history of flight. The festival also pays tribute to the military and highlights the exhilarating world of airplanes while offering a variety of exciting outdoor activities for the whole family. It’s an integral part of the VilleAero Aerospace and Logistics Conference, highlighting the pivotal role of logistics and transportation sectors in the North Central Alberta region and neighboring sectors.

The Airshow brings together history and excitement, as Northern Alberta has a rich aviation past, having attracted skilled pilots, like Wilfrid “Wop” May, and serving as a strategic location during the Cold War. But the airshow isn’t just about what’s in the sky. On the ground, there are interactive displays featuring both civilian and military aircraft, providing a hands-on experience for all. Those interested in the aviation industry will benefit from the STEAM Career Fair, where information about opportunities in aviation, engineering, drone and maintenance professions will be shared.

Skermer says, “What people don’t think about is that 90 per cent of aviation happens on the ground. It takes a full economy to make a plane. The plane is just the final piece. For example, look at the Calgary Stampede. That event attracts millions of people, but it is what happens in the background – accommodations, dining, people shopping in the city, taking transit – that drives investment. We are trying to do the same thing with aerospace. The Airshow is building an entrepreneurial and job creation culture around aerospace in order to showcase Edmonton’s products on the world stage.”

To this end, the Airshow ensures its participation in VilleAero, an aerospace and logistics exposition held in Edmonton. Patterned after key international trade expositions, VilleAero is Canada’s answer to international investment attraction, local festival excitement, tourism and job diversification. A warm up conference will be held in Edmonton from February 28 to March 1.

This year’s Airshow takes place on August 17 and 18, and the show is projected to sell out – again.

“We’ll be expanding on the career fair theme,” Skermer says of what to expect, “We are really looking forward to working with the Royal Canadian Air Force plus other military and recruitment arms to show what careers are available. It’s not just military. Aviation also includes logistics and workers that move equipment and materials.”

Alberta is well known for its energy industry. The Airshow aims to show both locals and those beyond the province’s borders that Alberta’s potential encompasses so much more; and within that expanse are rampant opportunities for an incredibly diverse range of individuals.

“Inclusion is at the heart of this initiative. Aerospace welcomes all, irrespective of physical abilities or backgrounds,” Skermer says.

This inclusive spirit is recognized out of personal experience. Skermer, an amputee himself, knows all too well how a disability can limit job opportunities. His aim is to ensure that those with disabilities know they have a place in this industry.

“Aerospace doesn’t target specific demographics. Instead, it opens doors for everyone, fostering an environment of equality and opportunity. Whether you identify as indigenous, POC, LGBTQIA2S+ or disabled, there are jobs and opportunities waiting for you in aviation such as welding, engineering, and more. The only prerequisites? Aptitude, drive and desire.”

Few know that Edmonton is home to numerous manufacturing companies that contribute to the global aviation industry. These include bolt manufacturers who supply integral parts for giants like Airbus and Boeing. These manufacturers are just some of the many vendors that contribute to the construction of aircraft like the Boeing 747, which involves around 4,000 to 5,000 vendors. These vendors range from those manufacturing large components to those producing the smallest nuts and bolts. Every single piece matters in the grand scheme of things.

“Consider this,” smiles Skermer, “each vendor can employ up to thousands of employees. This creates a massive ripple effect in job creation. For instance, if a company is contracted to wire a power plant for an aircraft, they would need engineers, electricians, project managers, quality control specialists and many more personnel. This is how jobs spiral out from a single contract or project. So, when you see a plane soaring high in the sky, remember that it’s not just a feat of engineering. It’s also a testament to the hard work of countless individuals, from those in the cockpit to those on the manufacturing floor. The Alberta International Airshow is a celebration of this incredible ecosystem of opportunities, where every nut, bolt and person plays a crucial role.”

“With plentiful precious metals and other resources, Canada is an untapped powerhouse that needs to shift its focus from east to west. The aim is to do something big and bold, bringing Alberta and the North along for the ride,” he continues. “When it comes to career opportunities, almost any profession can find a niche in the aviation industry. Pilots may be the face of aviation, but they represent just 10 per cent of the industry. There’s so much more beneath the surface, waiting to be explored.

“In Alberta, we’re driven not by fear, but by concern. The talk of economic diversification is everywhere, yet action is scarce. The Alberta Advantage is still very much alive. Once synonymous with energy, it now encompasses plant-based products and recyclables. Yet, the real advantage lies in our fluid geography and young demographic – the youngest in North America outside of Texas. Our workforce is young, well educated and energized by great institutions. It’s their drive and excitement that fuel our progress and our future.

“This is why we’re striving to be more than just an airshow. The Alberta International Airshow is a platform for growth, for business and for showcasing the potential of urban and rural Alberta beyond the boom or bust cycle of oil. To remain Canada’s heartbeat, we must attract the right people and jobs or risk becoming a ghost town.”

He sees the goals, mission and purpose of the Airshow as a catalyst to help shift Alberta’s reputation from that of an energy-based blue collar to one of a thriving region bursting with ideas, energy, entrepreneurs and opportunities for all.

“Often, Canada’s metropolitan cities look outwards, viewing the hinterlands as mere service providers,” Skermer says. “It is this type of thinking that leads to political strife and policies like the National Energy Program. Alberta has a smart, robust population that is truly driving a lot of Canada’s success. The biggest challenge facing the aviation industry in Alberta is that perception of isolation. There’s no such thing as a risk-free investment, but we can mitigate a lot of those risks. We need capital to flow freely, and for that, we must dispel the notion of Alberta existing in isolation. This is crucial not just for aviation and aerospace, but every other sector. We aim to break this ‘Canadian’ issue!”

In August, the planes will soar. Crowds will marvel at the World War aircraft as much as they enjoy seeing the newest in aviation tech. Youth will learn about the many different careers available in aerospace. Leaders from Boeing will be on site giving keynote speeches. Alberta itself will be on display, showcasing a thriving, educated, motivated population poised to take aerospace into the stratosphere as Alberta’s next, big industry.

“We invite you to sponsor us. Help us make this a global affair. Attend. Show up. Display your job and show potential employees your inclusivity. Showcase your apprenticeships. Let’s display the power of unity and the exciting developments happening in Western Canada,” Skermer concludes.

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