The Sky’s The Limit

What does lunch on a glacier, tree top logging, medivacs and fire-fighting all have in common?  Guess no further — the answer inquisitive readers is West Coast Helicopters Maintenance & Contracting Ltd.

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Headquartered in Port McNeill with bases in Nanaimo, Bella Coola and Campbell River they’ve come a long way since two pilots, 1 engineer and 2 helicopters started off without a hangar or office back in 1993.

The original vision began as a lifestyle choice.  One of company’s owners Terry Eissfeldt laughs when he admits, “we all needed a job.” But more than that he says, “we saw the potential in building a business with the idea that although it was work, we all valued people and atmosphere.”  With that in mind their company motto has always been “safety, service & reliability.”

I was just one of 40 people who attended a recent open house at West Coast Helicopters on Tuesday January 27th.  It was the second in a series of “member to member meetings” the Port McNeill & District Chamber of Commerce has planned as an ongoing program for members to connect, network and in this case for me learn some interesting facts about one of our local businesess.

One thing I discovered watching a power point presentation (narrated by Terry Eissfeldt upstairs in their very comfortable board room) is that West Coast Helicopters has up to 50 employees on the payroll between all four bases.  That number includes: pilots & admin staff, aircraft maintenance engineers and maintenance support staff such as painters & preppers.  Their expansion into third party maintenance provides year round employment for their maintenance personnel.  An excellent reputation for aircraft rebuilding has resulted in selling three aircraft to very satisfied customers.

Expansions haven’t always worked out the way they were planned such as trying a base in Whitehorse, Yukon and another in Rocky Mountain House, Alberta.  Eissfeldt uses a baseball analogy to explain,

“I’m sure you’ve all heard…the idea that successful people or businesses don’t necessarily hit a home run every time they are up to bat.  Babe Ruth was known as King of the Strike Outs.  We don’t play baseball but we take big swings and we do manage risk everyday.”

With each expansion came opportunities to add to their portfolio.  Eissfeldt says, “if we weren’t familiar with the particular requirements we found people that were.  We made sure it was always done with a high level of safety and excellence.” The list includes: heli-skiing, heli-fishing, firefighting and tree topping.

“Safety, safety, safety,” Eissfeldt chants.  “We always adhered to being safe about what we do, but in and around 2003-2006 we understood that Transport Canada would be mandating a specific Safety Standard to all aviation companies.  There was no plan or template so we made one…we are considered at the front of the pack when it comes to implementing safety culture into our company.”  So much so that Transport Canada and FAA have hired their services to train and familiarize others with the standards developed by West Coast Helicopters.

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Co-owner and long time pilot Peter Barratt gave us a comprehensive tour of both hangars, office space and they also have a full kitchen, suites for visiting staff and a small gym for their employees.  The hangar you see in the middle of the picture above is the “new” one and although they wondered during construction if it was too big, they can easily fill it now with their fleet of 2 to 6 passenger helicopters.

Something the owners didn’t mention are awards they’ve won.  In 2010 they were given the TECH Green Award for commitment to environmental leadership and involvement with sustainable best practices.  Using a wind turbine for power and catching rain water are just two of their green initiatives.  They were awarded the Forestry/Wood Products Business Excellence on Vancouver Island award in 2011.  And in 2012 they added the Robert S. Day Award to their trophy case.  Awarded by the BC Aviation Council for continued advancement in aviation safety and commitment to tourism.

There’s a new generation stepping up to the plate now.  Young men who grew up in Port McNeill are now flying and working to maintain the fleet.  Carrying the vision forward started by 3 men and a dream to take to the skies.

“The helicopter approaches closer than any other (vehicle) to fulfillment of mankind’s ancient dream of the flying horse and the magic carpet.” ~Igor Sikorsky

For more information visit http://westcoasthelicopters.com/

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