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Calgary Syrian newcomer opens public simulation flight centre in Alberta

WATCH: If you dream of flying a Boeing 737 or a fighter jet, you now have the chance if you live in Alberta. A public flight simulation centre has opened in Calgary and as Christa Dao reports, there’s an impressive success story behind the business.

A Syrian newcomer to Calgary has opened what he said is the first flight simulator open to the public in Alberta, just two years after arriving in Canada.

Altitude Flight Simulation Centre allows the public to experience sitting in the cockpit and flying either a passenger Boeing 737 or a fighter jet.

Owner Tammam Altajar said he was always interested in aerospace and flight simulation and so he decided to turn his passion into a business.

He had immigrated to Canada under the Federal Skilled Worker program in 2017 in search of work in the oil and gas sector.

He had more than 17 years of experience working as a senior drilling engineer across the Middle East and Africa.

However, due to Alberta’s soft economy and a lack of jobs in the energy sector, Altajar said he didn’t want to continue chasing a career in the industry in case the economy didn’t bounce back.

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“I didn’t want to waste all my time hoping for something that may not happen soon, or hoping that [the] oil and gas [industry] will come good next year. Everyone says, ‘Next year, next year, this is the last year,’ but it never became better,” Altajar said.

So Altajar went back to school, enrolling in a one-year course offered by the government aimed at teaching newcomers how to become business entrepreneurs.

“I decided rather than follow a hope… follow a plan. I decided I wanted to open a business.”

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He enlisted the help of a fellow Syrian newcomer to help with the planning and more technical side of opening a business.

READ MORE: Why immigration policy means so much to the people of Brooks, Alta.

Architect Saleh Al Lbwani also arrived in Canada two years ago in search of a better life in North America and more opportunities to grow his brand as an architect.

“My dream is to work in North America. As an architect… you can settle better here and there is more variety on the projects, so I would like to get that experience,” Al Lbwani said.

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“I feel more confident here to prepare myself for the future and to build myself here better. More opportunity, more open to business.”

Al Lbwani helped prepare blueprints and communicate with City of Calgary staff on permits and building codes. He also designed the space to allow for a Boeing 737 and F-18 Super Hornet simulation cockpits.

READ MORE: From newcomer to settlement counsellor: Edmontonian bridges gap between cultures

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Social activist Saima Jamal said in her years of working with newcomers, she has never seen anyone excel this quickly in such a short amount of time.

“I work with immigrants. I work with refugees on a daily basis. I see stories of newcomers struggling, stories of newcomers overcoming challenges, stories of newcomers becoming successful. I’ve seen it all. I’ve never seen anything like this,” she said.

“These immigrants, these refugees are the building blocks of the country. They’re building things that no else is.”

Altajar said he hopes the business is successful so he can give back to the country who welcomed him in.

“It’s all a good system to help a newcomer to succeed. You just need something from the inside to ignite it,” he said. “At the end, if you have determination, it will be easy.”

Altajar currently has six employees, full-time and part-time. The simulation centre does not technically meet Transport Canada regulations for certified training but is as close as you can get to the real thing, according to the company.

The training centre can be used for both education and entertainment — geared towards families and anyone who is interested in aviation, either as a hobby or as a career choice.

The flight centre is located in the northeast and opened to the public Wednesday.

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