Helicopter deal needs to be revisited

Dear Mike Morris:

I am writing to you regarding the awarding of a $9 million contract from BCEHS to provide a full-time helicopter air ambulance service that will be based in Prince George. While I am thrilled to see that we are, after decades of asking, finally getting this service, I am however quite disappointed that it was not put out to tender.

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Instead, it appears that an operator, Summit Helicopters, based in Kamloops was the sole competitor.

I have been a Transport Canada licensed aircraft maintenance engineer for helicopters since I first moved to Prince George in 1994. As a result, I have witnessed Prince George go from being one of the preeminent centres for the helicopter industry with many operators having headquarters or a strong base presence here, to an area devoid of

companies with a vested interest in our community. Over the past two decades, I have watched as companies have relocated bases and headquarters from Prince George to Kamloops and the Okanagan. This has resulted in the loss of many highly skilled engineers and pilots, along with very talented support staff, as they have been compelled to

relocate with their employer. As a result, we've stopped attracting new people to this profession and for them to consider making Prince George their home. These are educated people that bring six-figure salaries with them.

Yellowhead Helicopters is one company that has bucked that trend and several years ago made a substantial commitment to our community by establishing their headquarters and main base of operations in our great community. While I have not previously worked for Yellowhead, I have worked alongside them on many occasions and I have attended training courses that they have sponsored in the past (courses that, I might add, have brought many out-of-town aviation professionals to our community for weeks at a time). 

As a result, I can testify to their competency and commitment to aviation standards and safety. I have witnessed the unsurpassed quality of their aircraft and equipment. Their standards are some of the best and I know many of their managers and employees and they are held in high regard with in our tight-knit industry. 

So, I hope you can understand that I am very dismayed that Yellowhead was not even considered for this very essential contract (at last count they operate over 30 helicopters with Prince George as their main base).

Summit, on the other hand, has never had a presence in Prince George or the north. I have never worked for Summit, but I have had substantial dealings with them in the past. In fact, I sold them one of the Bell 412EP helicopters that they now use. I did this while working for Tempest Aviation, which was started and flourished in Prince George until 2017, until they felt compelled to relocate their business to Kelowna to be closer to the same operators that abandoned Prince George for the Okanagan. This was a loss of over 20 well paid and skilled jobs for our community. 

By rewarding companies like Summit, we are sending a message to the few operators we have left, that we do not feel that they are capable or valued for that matter. This is very wrong.

The helicopter industry plays a key role in supporting forestry, mining, and oil and gas, all cornerstones of our northern economy. As a result, we should be focusing on companies that show support for our community and are willing to keep reinvesting the public’s dollars back into our community. Yellowhead is such a company and I agree with Jacob Forman’s statement (one of the owners) to the Prince George Citizen that they could fulfill the role required by BCEHS with superior equipment and in a more cost-effective manner.

I am unclear about what is required to reopen the awarding of this contract, to essentially an operator from Ontario (Ledcor is Summit’s parent company). While unclear, I commit to you that I want to see this decision reversed and I make myself available to you as a servant to our community to work, with your guidance, to have this disparaging oversight to our region rectified. 

I am reluctant to use bombastic language but, quite frankly, it feels insulting. We are strong and more than capable in the north, and while Victoria may not think so, my experience tells me otherwise.

As an aviation professional, with many contacts, I cannot express how strongly I feel about this. Five years ago, I was involved in doing the research for the HEROS initiative as to what aircraft would best serve our northern region. If you agree that the strong people of Prince George are well up to the task of doing what we do best, namely coming to the aid of those in our own back yard, then please assist me in creating a campaign to reverse this summary awarding of a contract to an eastern corporation.

Jeffrey Wilson

Prince George

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