Conair Aviation has ground covered

By Peter Caulfield

Silicon Valley North 2 July 2000

Conair Aviation of Abbotsford, BC, is launching a new kind of air tanker for this year's fire season. The tanker, a turbine-engine Convair CV 580, can drop a constant flow of fertilizer-based forest fire retardant, which allows for even ground coverage.

The BC and Alberta forest protection agencies have each contracted Conair to provide two CV 580 air tankers and a Twin Commander Birddog aircraft every fire season for the next 10 years. Conair VP Rick Pedersen says the first two Convair CV 580 air tankers have been placed in operation in Alberta, and the other two are scheduled to go into service in BC this summer. The CV 580 has a two-pilot crew, while the birddog plane utilizes a single pilot.

Dave Langridge, superintendent of aviation management in the protection program of the BC Ministry of Forests, says the aircraft, pilots, maintenance and support services are all the responsibility of Conair. "In a nutshell, we tell them where to locate, how quickly they should be ready to go and where to drop," says Langridge.

To develop the air tanker, Conair Aviation, the division of Conair Group Inc. that specializes in aerial fire control, collaborated for a year with Kelowna Flightcraft Ltd., which services the CV 580, and Aero Union Corp. of Chico, Calif., which manufactures the retardant delivery system. Conair contracted Aero Union to adapt its constant flow retardant delivery system to the CV 580 type.

Langridge says the government was looking for an air tanker service with fast turbine-powered aircraft and an efficient retardant delivery system. "The retardant delivery system on the 580 is a highly efficient state-of-the-art bombing tank," he says. "Conair incorporated modifications to the aircraft, increasing its payload by approximately 50%, making the value-for-costs of this aircraft very attractive." 

Air tankers are an important part of the ministry of forests fire protection service. "Tankers are often the first resource to arrive at a remote fire site, and are tasked with containing the fire until ground forces arrive," says Langridge. 

The incidence of forest fires and the damage they cause can vary greatly from year to year. The ministry of forests says 1998 was the worst year in BC for forest fires: more than 2,600 fires damaged just under 78,000 hectares and cost more than $150 million to fight. In 1999 1,200 fires burned a little less than 12,000 hectares and cost $21.2 million to extinguish. The 10-year average is 56,831 hectares.


Helipro Group and Acro Aerospace merge and specialize

By Peter Caulfield

Silicon Valley North 8 July 1999

Two West Coast companies that overhaul and repair helicopter airframes, engines and components are merging. As of May 1, Bellingham, Wash.-based Helipro Group will specialize in the repair and overhaul of helicopter air frames, and Acro Aerospace Inc., located in Richmond, will focus on engines and components.

Acro is an operating division of holding company Vector Aerospace, which acquired Helipro. This first acquisition brings the public company's employee count to nearly 1,000. Formed in 1998, Vector's headquarters are in St. Johns, Nfld. 

With operating groups in PEI, England, BC and, now, Washington, Vector is engaged in the repair and overhaul of turbine engines, dynamic components, accessories, blades, propellers and airframes for commercial and military helicopters and airplanes. 

Hugh Whitfield, Helipro's VP operations, says the company, which was established in July 1988, has 155 employees at facilities in Bellingham, Houston, City of Industry, Ca., and Langley, BC. Whitfield says Helipro is also planning to build a new shop on the East Coast of the U.S., possibly in Poughkeepsie, NY.

Whitfield says both Helipro and Acro 'did a bit of everything' before his company's acquisition by Vector, with Helipro concentrating on structural overhaul and repair, and Acro on components and engines. 

Now that both companies are part of Vector, the companies are specializing, with each taking over part of the other's business. 'It's a perfect match,' Whitfield says. 'There couldn't have been a better fit. Now we can offer our customers the best of everything.'

Acro, which operates a 158,000-square-foot facility in Richmond, was established as an autonomous entity in 1995, after operating as the overhaul and repairs division of Canadian Helicopters. Eric Hicks, Acro's director of sales and marketing, says his company serves helicopter operators all over the world, including North America, Thailand, England, France, Malaysia and South America.

Acro Aeroparts, Acro Aerospace's parts sales distribution division, sells inventory to customers from its location in Delta. 

Whitfield says Helipro's acquisition by Vector came at a good time for his company. 'It was either we went public, to raise the money to continue to grow, or get together with Vector, which already is a public company,' Whitfield says. 'The second approach made better sense to Helipro.'

Whitifield says he expects the integration of Helipro's operations with Acro's will take about six months. 'The process is already well underway, and it's been going very quickly and smoothly.'

Whitifield called the acquisition a friendly amalgamation. 'All the key management in both Helipro and Acro stayed on. There has been very limited job loss, perhaps a total of a half-dozen or so middle management positions. That's very good when you're dealing with hundreds of jobs.'

Although Helipro and Acro are on the West Coast, and Vector is on the other side of the continent, Whitifield says he foresees no communication difficulties. 'We have video conferences once a week. Anyway, Vector lets its companies alone to run themselves.'

PKC Media & Communications, 2002   e-mail: PKC  phone: 604.228.9673 (Pacific Time)


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