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The United Nations of the Northern skies

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services
Published Monday, May 7, 2012

It might be a regional airline based in the NWT, but Northwestern Air Lease Ltd. has global reach when it comes to attracting workers.

NNSL photo/graphic

Two international employees - Karen Palmer from Saint Vincent in the Caribbean and Iqbal 'Sunny' Sira from Kenya - stand in front of an aircraft at Northwestern Air Lease Ltd. in Fort Smith. - photo courtesy of Northwestern Air Lease Ltd.

Presently, people from all over the world work for the Fort Smith-based company.

The newest arrival is Karen Palmer, who is originally from Saint Vincent, an island in the Caribbean.

"I really didn't think there would be a lot of people from all over, but there seems to be a pretty big representation," said the 24-year-old.

Palmer arrived at Northwestern Air Lease about two weeks ago to work as an operations assistant with the hope of eventually flying with the company. Her father is from the Caribbean and her mother from Ontario, and Palmer attended boarding school in Canada and later the University of Western Ontario, before learning how to fly at a college in New Brunswick.

"And then I drove here."

So far, she said everyone has been very welcoming at her first job and she is fitting into life in Fort Smith, noting she is used to living in small communities.

"I really like it up here so far. I guess I'll see in the winter," she said with a laugh.

Brian Harrold, co-owner of Northwestern Air Lease, listed the numerous countries his employees call home, such as Egypt, Hungary, Japan, South Africa, Great Britain and Germany.

"I've got them from all over. We hire them from everywhere," he said.

The varied origins of workers make Northwestern Air Lease a "really cool" place to work, Harrold noted. "You learn a lot about different cultures and the way people do things in different places. It's really neat. It's a great eye-opener."

The company has about 65 employees, most in Fort Smith and some in other locations, and of that number about 12 were born outside of Canada.

"A pretty significant portion of our workforce is from other places," Harrold said.

His estimate is 95 per cent have immigrated to Canada, while some are in the country on work visas.

In the past, the company has had workers from Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, China, Guyana and India, just to name a few countries.

One of the current workers is Iqbal 'Sunny' Sira, from Kenya in East Africa.

"I was really surprised that a lot of people up here in the North were from other countries," said Sira, noting he has met a lot of people who have visited his home country. "It's kind of nice to meet and share stories."

It is different to work at a company with people from so many countries, he said. "You get to learn about lots of cultures."

The 25-year-old mechanic has worked at Northwestern Air Lease for two years. Sira, who said he has always had an interest in aviation, came to Canada to study at a college in Ontario.

"I just thought why not get some experience before I go back, and take some knowledge," he said, noting some of his college instructors suggested the NWT would be a good place to gain experience.

Sira said he has gotten used to winters in Canada.

"I've kind of settled into the climate and am enjoying it," he said.

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