Tracy Medve lets out a hearty laugh when I ask her about 2023.
“We had a lot of balls in the air and our team came through,” said the president and CEO of KF Aerospace (formerly Kelowna Flightcraft).
“It was a momentous year.”
It certainly was.
Last month, it was announced that KF Aerospace is a key maintenance partner on the new $10-billion contract to make P8-A Poseidon jets for the Royal Canadian Air Force.
In August, KF Aerospace was named ‘Boeing Supplier of the Year’ in the safety and quality category.
KF Aerospace added staff in Kelowna to take the count to 850, maintaining its status as the city’s largest private-sector employer.
Employees with young children asked KF Aerospace to offer daycare and it has in partnership with the provincial government, Kelowna International Airport and operator YMCA.
KF Aerospace’s partnership with CAE — SkyAlyne — secured a 25-year contract valued in the billions with the federal government to train pilots for the Royal Canadian Air Force, in part at KF’s facility in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba.
Such high-profile success on a local, national and international stage makes KF Aerospace the ideal company for KelownaNow to name ‘business of the year’ for 2023.
Tracy Medve is the president and CEO of KF Aerospace.
“As a 53-year-old company that was started by one man (Barry Lapointe) to do small-plane maintenance, you could say something big happens every year with KF Aerospace,” said Medve.
“But, this year certainly stands out. Poseidon, SkyAlyne and the ‘Boeing Supplier of the Year’ were all huge stories and huge wins for us.”
Since the wins are tied to multi-year contracts, it means KF Aerospace will be flying high for decades to come.
KF Aerospace will do maintenance on the fleet of Boeing P8-A Poseidon jets used by the Royal Canadian Air Force.
KF Aerospace’s headquarters is beside Kelowna International Airport and includes a cluster of hangars where aircraft are stored, maintained, repaired, retrofitting and overhauled.
It needs access to Kelowna airport’s runway because planes are coming and going all the time from KF Aerospace facilities.
The company counts WestJet, Air Canada, United Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Air North, Sunwing and Icelandair and several governments and militaries among its clients for aircraft maintenance, repair, retrofits and overhauls.
KF Aerospace also has an aerospace engineering department, flies cargo for Purolator Courier, leases aircraft and operates the passenger charter airline Aeroflyer to take workers to oil and gas camps up north and fly sports teams around.
KF Aerospace does aircraft maintenance, repairs, retrofitting and overhauling for a range of clients from passenger and cargo airlines to government and military.
In all, KF Aerospace has 1,150 employees across the country, including that pilot training facility in Portage la Prairie and another maintenance and courier hub in Hamilton.
That’s why Kelowna Flightcraft changed its name to KF Aerospace years ago — because it’s a national and international company that’s grown well past its Kelowna roots.
Yet, the company is proud of its Kelowna roots.
Founder Barry Lapointe is still the chairman and owner and lives here and his story of growing the company from just him and his dog doing small-plane maintenance to the powerhouse it is today is legendary.
Lapointe’s trajectory and many other aviation successes are spotlighted at the plane-shaped landmark building called the KF Centre for Excellence beside KF Aerospace’s Kelowna facilities.
The centre displays vintage airplanes, has interactive aviation exhibits, an airfield viewing gallery and conference facilities.
“Kelowna is a great place to have the company and live and work,” said Medve.
“It’s an attractive place to move to and as a result we’ve had good attraction and retention of employees. But, we’re now struggling with the labour shortage that’s impacting all companies.”
That’s why KF Aerospace works closely with Okanagan College on its aircraft maintenance technician and aircraft maintenance engineer programs and is constantly recruiting talent, sometimes from overseas.
KF Aerospace has facilities across the country employing 1,150 people. Headquarters and the main operations are in Kelowna with 850 workers.
Medve grew up with a dad who was a private pilot, but never imagined a job in aviation.
She went to law school in Saskatchewan, but upon graduation in 1981 discovered she really didn’t have a passion for it.
So, she landed a job at Norcanair in Saskatoon and then Time Air in Lethbridge, which became Canadian Regional Airlines, before doing some aviation consulting and then becoming president of Canadian North Airlines.
Being in the same industry, over those 30 years, she constantly bumped into KF Aerospace founder Barry Lapointe.
He was impressed and hired her for KF Aerospace’s top job when he decided to retire from the president and CEO roles in 2013.
“I had always planned to retire in Kelowna,” said Medve.
“This way, I was able to move here earlier and work with an amazing company.”