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One of Canada’s most enduring corporate aviation departments closed its doors suddenly on Oct. 4. After 60 years of operations, Calgary-based Shell Canada Aviation was recently shut down, with the company opting to contract Flair Airlines Ltd. for all of its aviation-related needs. According to industry sources, the decision resulted in the layoff or retirement of approximately 23 Shell pilots, aircraft maintenance engineers, flight attendants, and office employees.
Shell’s aviation department was created in 1953. The first aircraft operated by the oil company were de Havilland DH.104 Doves as executive transports, with a DHC-3 Otter, DHC-2 Beaver and Douglas DC-3 being the workhorses of the fleet. These aircraft supported Shell’s exploration efforts in the Yukon, Northwest Territories and northeastern B.C.
As the company’s focus evolved from exploration into drilling and exploitation, the aircraft fleet changed to include a Piper PA-23 Aztec, a Dornier Do-28, a Fairchild F-27, and two DHC-6 Twin Otters, used in the Mackenzie Delta at Inuvik, N.W.T., during the 1960s and 70s. Corporate aircraft included a Hawker Siddeley HS-125 and a Dassault Falcon 200. Sir Douglas Bader – the Second World War dual-amputee fighter pilot – was Royal Dutch Shell’s UK aviation director, and often visited the Canadian operation during this era.
In the 1980s, Shell and many other resource companies ceased their operations in Canada’s Beaufort Sea. The Twin Otters and the F-27 were sold, but the company continued providing corporate transportation services from Calgary.
More recently, increased activities at Shell Canada’s Albian Sands project north of Fort McMurray, Alta., required an increase in aircraft capacity, resulting in the addition of a Dornier 328 and then an Embraer 175. To supplement this activity, Kelowna, B.C.-based Flair Airlines was contracted. Between 2007 and 2010, the charter airline transported more than 10,000 construction workers per month from 14 locations in Canada.
“We have enjoyed a productive and successful working relationship with Shell,” said Jim Rogers, president and owner of Flair Airlines, which was established in 2005. “This agreement will strengthen that relationship, and position us strategically in a way that will help us to continue to grow our business, both here in Kelowna and across Canada.”
Flair has been operating three B737-400 aircraft, and added a fourth as a result of its new contract with Shell Canada Energy Ltd., which covers the provision of exclusive air charter transportation services within Canada for 10 years. Workforce transportation has become a major component of resource development in Canada, as mega-projects in the oil sands and other regions require both construction and operational workers. Transporting these skilled people from various parts of Canada allows the company to access a skilled workforce; one that otherwise might not be inclined to move to the remote areas where these projects are situated.
Flair will utilize the existing Shell passenger terminal and hangar, and will operate the two Shell aircraft on the company’s behalf. Ground handling at all Shell locations is provided by Canadian Base Operators under direct contract to Shell. Flair took over full operations on Oct. 7.
A separate company, North Sands Air Services Ltd., was created by Flair to provide logistics planning, passenger reservations and third party charter aircraft procurement.
“This is a good deal for both Flair and Shell. It gives Shell an experienced, dedicated air services provider which can adapt easily to changing requirements, and one that can also deliver cost savings over their previous model. For Flair, it is a 10‐year opportunity to share an alliance with a major player in the energy development sector in Western Canada,” said Chris Lapointe, Flair’s vice president of business development.
Despite several attempts to contact Shell Canada, the company did not respond to Canadian Skies’ request for comment.