Syrian newcomers hope business takes off after starting Calgary flight simulator centre

It’s been a turbulent two years for Syrian newcomer Tammam Altajar. But after he couldn't find a job, he decided to create one for himself.

When a job didn’t materialize, Tammam Altajar decided to wing it

Tammam Altajar came to Calgary from Syria two years ago and struggled to find work before setting up a state-of-the-art flight simulator in the city's northeast. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

It's been a turbulent two years for Syrian newcomer Tammam Altajar, but he's hoping a new aviation-focused business in northeast Calgary will take off, along with his new life in Canada.

The Syrian arrived here through a skilled worker program in September 2017, hoping to continue a long career in oil and gas. He had worked in the Middle East as a senior drilling engineer for 17 years.

But the Alberta economy was still in the dumps and jobs were scarce.

Realizing the chance of a job in his field was slim to none, Altajar decided to take a big risk.

"After three months of trying to find a job, I realized it was not going to get any better," said Altajar.

A Boeing 737 simulator offers customers the chance to try flying different routes, including Calgary to Vancouver. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

"I didn't want to sit there idle hoping oil and gas would get better, especially being a newcomer with no Canadian experience," he said.

So he kept busy, signing up for a year-long self employment program through the former provincial government with the aim of becoming an entrepreneur and starting his own business around his childhood passion: airplanes and flight.

"I was looking for ideas and I wanted to do something unique, something niche, something I like, and flight simulation was my passion since I was a kid, it was my hobby," said Altajar.

Then came market research, business plans, regulations and approvals and the sourcing of state-of-the-art flight simulator equipment from Europe and teaming up with fellow Syrian Saleh Allbwani, an architect by trade.

Saleh Allbwani, a fellow Syrian immigrant, joined forces with Tammam Altajar to help Altajar design the new business, based on similar centres in Dubai and the United States. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

With Allbwani's help they designed and opened the Altitude Flight Simulation Centre at a strip mall in northeast Calgary.

Inside you'll find a sleek showroom-style environment with five high-tech aircraft simulators to try, positioned in front of huge curved screens.

"Our main goal is to entertain people. People can come and try two different experiences. One is the Boeing 737 the other is the F-18 fighter jet simulators," said Allbwani. "You can come with a group of friends and do this together," he said.

Customers ranging from novices to aviation buffs can fly for 30 minutes or as long as two hours.

"We are so proud to be in such a wonderful country. We would like to be productive providing jobs for people and providing entertainment for them," said Allbwani. 

The Altitude Flight Simulation Centre is located in a strip mall not far from the airport in northeast Calgary. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

Altajar says the past two years have been a whirlwind of change, from moving to a new country and starting a new life to launching a new business with no business background.

"It is a lot, a bit scary, but you don't jump into it. You prepare step by step so I don't fail," he said. "It's exciting."

Altajar says he had support from the community as well as the city that made it easy to start his business.

He says he's now happy to share what he's learned with other newcomers in his community, to help them realize their own dreams.


Dan McGarvey


Dan McGarvey is a mobile journalist focused on filing stories remotely for CBC Calgary’s web, radio, TV and social media platforms, using only an iPhone and mobile tech. His work is used by mobile journalism (mojo) trainers and educators around the world. Dan is focused on sharing stories from under-reported communities and groups in Calgary, including the city’s diverse northeast quadrant. You can email story ideas and tips to Dan at