The Great Flight North

As a pilot turned VP of operations for Canadian North Airlines, Trevor Wakefield ensures the airline is soaring above the competition

Working alongside his father as a telecom technician directly out of high school, Trevor Wakefield had aspirations that went a little higher—37,000 feet higher.

“I had thought about being a pilot fairly early in life and when I was 21, my parents bought me a familiarization flight, where you go up with an instructor and you get to take the wheel for about 20 minutes,” Wakefield says. “Ever since then, I caught the bug. I began taking lessons at night and finished off my license in 1998. Then came the daunting task of finding a job.”

The problem was, at that time, aviation jobs were not easy to come by. But Wakefield found himself at the right place at the right time, landing a job as a pilot at North American Airlines, a small charter company, flying cargo throughout Northern Alberta and British Columbia. He did that for two years, and then flew corporate travelers for a year and a half, before fate brought him to Canadian North Airlines.

“I started with them in 2001 as a first officer on the F28 Fokker Jet, with the help of a great family friend and eventually trained into a captain on the same plane,” he says.

“Then there’s the working with the crews and employees. I’ve worked with them for 14 years now and they are all good people.”

Throughout the years, Wakefield has flown several types of aircraft within the company. However, his current type, the Boeing 737, holds a special place in his heart.

“I eventually got into the training department and began teaching crew resource management to our flight crews,” he says. “This eventually led into teaching simulator instruction to our pilots and bringing my human-factors training to the guys on the line. In 2010, I entered management as the director of safety and ran the safety department, still continuing to fly on the side whenever I could.”

For the past 18 months, Wakefield has been serving as Canadian North’s vice president of operations, overseeing the planes’ daily movements, maintenance, pilots, flight attendants, and crew scheduling.

On any given day he might have to deal with a plane breaking down, juggling flight crews due to an illness, making decisions about what to do with passengers when an aircraft needs to be fixed, or dealing with operational or commercial contracts with vendors or aircraft lessors.

“Safety is our top priority,” Wakefield says. “We adhere to and abide by a Transport Canada regulated program called the Safety Management System, which was introduced in Canada in 2005. Heading up that program for Canadian North, my first initiative was to update our computer-based reporting and tracking system that helps employees report safety concerns, both proactively and reactively. This brought better awareness to our safety goals and allowed a more robust and transparent system.”

Canadian North and its founding companies (Canadian Airlines, Pacific Western Airlines, Transair, and Nordair) have been a leading airliner in the country for over 80 years. It offers flights as far reaching as the North Pole and also offers air charter services within and beyond the North for industrial clients, sports teams, cruise ships, and large groups.

Wakefield does his best to ensure that the airline stays at the top of its game. He works with the other VPs and directors to support the president, meet their targets, and to ensure long-term viability of the airline.

“About a year ago we started on a venture to get our own simulator, prior to this, we used to send crews to Seattle, Denver, Atlanta and Dallas, ultimately costing thousands in travel and down time for our crews,” Wakefield says. “With the hard work and persistence of our flight ops group, mainly our Chief Pilot 737, we unveiled our full-motion 737-300/400/500 simulator in June of this year. This unit, complete with updated Rockwell visuals for an enhanced realistic experience, works off a Google Maps system to ensure the best possible training environment for our crews. We also have the ability now to rent time out to other airlines.”

Unlike the simulators they were previously renting with a certification of Level C—meaning once a pilot completes training on the simulator they must then fly the actual plane and land it successfully multiple times before carrying passengers—Canadian North’s simulator is approved to a level D certification. This allows for the pilot trainees to operate and fly the line immediately after simulator training sign off.

These days, Wakefield doesn’t fly as often as he would like and admits he misses it, but enjoys being part of the business world now, especially when he is out on the line talking with employees, assisting them with issues or concerns, and reconnecting with many of his colleagues and friends.

“My favorite thing is the constant change. You never know what’s going to happen in your day,” he says. “I’m constantly posed with new tasks and things to take care of. Then there’s the working with the crews and employees. I’ve worked with them for 14 years now and they are all good people. You know everyone by name and it’s a great work environment.”