QuebecÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s helicopter operators are doing
surprisingly well, thanks to key contracts that have offset the general downturn in the natural resources sector.
Friday June 1st 2012 - James Careless
The world recession has been hard on helicopter operators, particularly those serving the natural resources sector, where demand has dropped. Quebec is one of those helicopter markets that is heavily dependent on natural resources clients, so it comes as a surprise that the provinceÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s operators seem to be doing relatively well.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“All told, the Quebec helicopter industry has been doing quite well,Ã¢â‚¬Â summarized Fred Jones, president and CEO of the Helicopter Association of Canada (HAC). Ã¢â‚¬Å“Our Quebec members have been sending us some pretty positive reports on how sales have been going, and their prospects for the year ahead, which look promising.Ã¢â‚¬Â
The final major contributor to the Quebec helicopter industryÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s revenues is forest firefighting. From a financial standpoint, this sector is a wildcard: the amount of work operators get from aerial fire suppression depends entirely on how many fires occur during the summer months.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“We never know how many firefighting hours we will be logging until the season gets underway,Ã¢â‚¬Â Lacasse told Canadian Skies. Ã¢â‚¬Å“It all depends on the weather and chance. We just have to wait and see.Ã¢â‚¬Â
To date, QuebecÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s helicopter operators have done a good job of getting through the recession. But weathering the economic storm is not their only challenge. They also have to cope with the rising cost of doing business, at a time when banks are still leery about lending money. This means that operators have to manage their cash flows carefully, buying aircraft as they can afford to.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“The fact that OEMs are telling us that equipment sales are increasing in Quebec is a good sign,Ã¢â‚¬Â said HACÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Jones. Ã¢â‚¬Å“ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a tangible indication of how the industry is doing.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Climbing fuel costs are a constant problem for operators; costs that have to be passed on to customers. This Ã¢â‚¬Å“flow-throughÃ¢â‚¬Â results in higher prices, at a time when more players are getting into the market.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“The result is that there is stiff competition for work, with some companies undercutting the rest on bids,Ã¢â‚¬Â Talbot said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“We do what we can to compete, but we have to maintain reasonable prices to pay our bills and continue to provide safe, efficient service Ã¢â‚¬â€œ which is what attracts customers to us.Ã¢â‚¬Â
The one issue that seems to be dogging Quebec helicopter operators the most is staff: namely finding Ã¢â‚¬â€œ and keeping Ã¢â‚¬â€œ experienced pilots and mechanics. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I am constantly hwwearing from our members about the difficulties they have in finding flight crews and maintenance people,Ã¢â‚¬Â said Jones. Ã¢â‚¬Å“This is not a new problem Ã¢â‚¬â€œ weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve been working on it for years Ã¢â‚¬â€œ but it remains a serious one.Ã¢â‚¬Â The current staff crunch is due to a mix of Baby Boomers retiring, the growing use of helicopters by customers, and stiff competition for experienced personnel by larger, urban-based operators with deep pockets.
The operators who spoke with Canadian Skies are fighting back by hiring young pilots with relatively few flight hours, and then doing everything they can to get those hours up fast. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Wherever we can, weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve got these people working overtime,Ã¢â‚¬Â said Talbot. Ã¢â‚¬Å“The key is to find jobs where the clients are not demanding pilots with 1,000 or more hours. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s our biggest stumbling block.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Our hope is that by helping these pilots and mechanics get established, they will be loyal to us,Ã¢â‚¬Â added Lacasse. Ã¢â‚¬Å“This is why we are doing whatever we can to advance their careers.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Despite these challenges, QuebecÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s helicopter operators are boldly moving forward into the future.
Why take the risk? Ã¢â‚¬Å“We believe in investing in our business,Ã¢â‚¬Â Simard replied. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Besides, given that our combined fleets total nearly 100 helicopters, it makes sense to do our own work in house, rather than contract it out.Ã¢â‚¬Â
The Air Transport Association of Canada came into existence as a result of a conference of aircraft operators and aircraft manufacturers held in Ottawa (at the Chateau Laurier Hotel) on November 18, 1934. Forty-one delegates from commercial companies were present, as well as nine representatives from the Civil Aviation Division. Source: www.atac.ca