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ARCTIC SOVEREIGNTY – ATCO Frontec

ARCTIC SOVEREIGNTY – ATCO Frontec

 BY JAMES CARELESS

In 1987 ATCO Frontec became the first Canadian contractor to operate the North Warning System

Northern Operations

When it comes to provisioning, operating, and staffing operations in Canada’s Far North, few companies know as much as ATCO Frontec — if any!

Back in 1987, ATCO Frontec became the first Canadian contractor to operate the North Warning System (NWS), the NORAD radar facility that guards our Arctic airspace and detects airborne intruders. Today, ATCO Frontec runs this 47-site system through Nasittuq Corporation, which is a 50-50 joint venture between ATCO Frontec and the indigenous-owned Pan Arctic Inuit Logistics Corporation.

The NWS is just one of many northern Canadian facilities adeptly managed by ATCO Frontec in both the defence and civilian sectors. This is why Canadian Defence Review magazine named ATCO Frontec to its list of 2022 Top Defence Companies. “We’re proud to have been ranked at #61,” said Jim Landon, President of ATCO Frontec. “That’s up from our 2021 rank of #76.”

A PROVEN DEFENCE PARTNER

ATCO Frontec’s expertise in the Canadian Arctic, along with its support of many Canadian Armed Forces missions dating back to the 1990s, explains why this company wants to play its part in modernizing NORAD. It certainly has the skills to do so.

“We’ve been a defence services provider for over 30 years, supporting DND across Canada and the North — plus NATO in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Hungary, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina — and the Alaska Radar System, which we operate in partnership with ASRC Federal Primus under the name ARCTEC Alaska,” Landon told CDR. “In January 2022, Nasittuq Corporation was awarded a seven-year contract to operate and maintain the North Warning System. The year before, ATCO Frontec won a five-year facility operations and maintenance contract by Defence Construction Canada for 15 DND Alberta sites.”

According to Landon, ATCO Frontec has been a defence services provider for over 30 years, supporting DND across Canada and the North

DEEP CANADIAN ROOTS 

Although ATCO Frontec is a global company with 6,000 employees worldwide, it is deeply and firmly rooted in Canada. “The company was founded 75 years ago in Calgary as the Alberta Trailer Company, which is what ATCO stands for,” said Landon. “It subsequently diversified into utilities such as gas and electric transmission/distribution, plus the defence side of the market.”

The name Frontec, which is a division of ATCO Ltd, stands for Frontier Technologies. It was originally formed to supply technical services and logistical support in northern Canada. “Frontec then followed the Canadian military to Bosnia providing support there and then to NATO in Afghanistan — along with lots of disaster and emergency management response work as well,” Landon told CDR.

NORTHERN EXPERTISE

As far as NORAD is concerned, it is ATCO Frontec’s decades of service on the North Warning System that really speaks to the company’s utility and expertise. To keep the NWS running today, Nasittuq manages 47 radar sites and three logistics facilities in Ontario using 250 full-time employees (20% of whom are Inuit), plus a 35% part-time Inuit workforce. Collectively, they deliver Operations and Maintenance (O&M) services to over 100 buildings, more than 300 bulk fuel storage tanks, and 47 helipads/gravel runways. As well, Nasittuq provides helicopter transport between the NWS sites, 24/7 remote monitoring and control of all radar sites from the NWS Support Centre, bulk fuel delivery support and testing (since these sites are run on diesel generators), logistical support and supply delivery to the entire NWS, and billeting/food services for the people who live and work there.

Remember, ATCO Frontec (through Nasittuq) is doing all of this support work in an incredibly cold and remote environment, one where you can’t just walk to the corner store to pick up goods at a moment’s notice. Planning and managing the materiel/human resources elements of this O&M system requires an in-depth understanding of the operating environment, supply chain issues — especially now in a still disrupted post-COVID world — and finding/retaining the best employees for the job.

While ATCO Frontec is doing all of this, it is also tackling climate change. This is why the company is implementing a sustainability program (based on green initiatives and practices) to help reduce greenhouse gases, potable water consumption, and improve its facilities to reduce fuel consumption for heating.

For all of these reasons, ATCO Frontec wants to play a key role in NORAD’s modernization plans. “I think any element of NORAD modernization that is going to happen in the North must absolutely involve the people in the North,” said Landon. “One of the best ways of doing that is through an existing service provider that has got a track record of delivering for the government like ATCO Frontec.”

STRONG INDIGENOUS PARTNERSHIPS

Throughout its decades of working in Canada’s North, ATCO Frontec has learned the value of working with the people who know and understand this region better than anyone: The Inuit.

This is why ATCO Frontec has 50 partnerships and relationship agreements with Indigenous communities across Canada, and partnerships with majority Inuit-owned companies. Nasittuq is one of these. So is Uqsuq Corporation in Iqaluit, which manages the bulk fuel system and delivery for the city. It is also why ATCO Frontec regularly exceeds its contractual training and employment commitments for Inuit employees, and why the company is such a strong advocate for involving Canada’s Indigenous peoples in the development of this land.

Working with Indigenous peoples since 1987 on the NWS has delivered real social benefits to northern Canadian communities. “On my many trips to the North, I’ve met people who started out as apprentices on the NWS who are now business and political leaders making a difference in their communities,” Landon told CDR. “What ATCO Frontec is doing up here matters. Our employees truly are nation builders. That’s why partnerships with majority Inuit-owned companies are so important up here. They’re showing what can be done in real-life and serving as positive role models for people to be able to say, ‘wow, I could do that myself!’”

All of these positive results and hope are encapsulated in the spirit that drives ATCO Frontec. “We have this track record of going to difficult places and making things work,” concluded Landon. “We call it having the Frontec Spirit — the willingness and ability to operate in remote and difficult places while always doing our best.”

James Careless is CDR’s Ottawa Bureau Chief

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