Business

Topflight training in the Okanagan

Canadian Helicopter staff and managers from across Canada were among those attending a recent showcase event for the new HNZ Topflight facility which replaces the former Canadian Helicopters training centre at the Penticton Regional Airport. The new centre is over 20,000 square feet and includes indoor hanger space for the entire aircraft fleet. - Mark Brett/Western News
Canadian Helicopter staff and managers from across Canada were among those attending a recent showcase event for the new HNZ Topflight facility which replaces the former Canadian Helicopters training centre at the Penticton Regional Airport. The new centre is over 20,000 square feet and includes indoor hanger space for the entire aircraft fleet.
— image credit: Mark Brett/Western News

While the product hasn’t changed, the face of the Canadian Helicopters flight training facility at the Penticton Regional Airport definitely has.

And so has the name.

Rebranded as HNZ Topflight, company officials have recently been showing off the new digs to others including a showcase event for staff and managers from across the country and last week’s grand opening.

Several months ago the business moved out of its 2,500-square-foot cramped quarters into a $5 million, state-of-the-art building which checks in at just over 20,000 square feet.

No one could be prouder, or happier, than Jan Rustad, who has worked at the school for 35 years.

“It’s a dream come true,” said Rustad, chief flight instructor and the firm’s business development manager. “I always had this dream to push the school to new heights and to be able to eventually have it developed to its current state is tremendous.

“We are recognized internationally as a world-class school and essentially we were working out of a third-class facility. It just wasn’t keeping up with the reputation of the school and now we have a world-class building. It’s beautiful and we love it. I’m totally elated.”

Staff includes six flight instructors, three engineers and several clerical workers.

The helicopter fleet is usually six aircraft, all of which can now be housed inside the much larger hanger space.

“Just to be able to keep these machines, which cost from $1 to 2 million each, out of the elements, the sun, wind, rain and cold is very important,” said the manager.

Under Rustad, Canadian has built up a reputation as one of, if not the best, mountain-flying training facilities in the world.

That is evidenced not only in the numbers of clients — several hundred experienced pilots come here annually for training and upgrades — but the agencies they represent.

Military, police and search and rescue flyers are among the major customers, all of who work in the some of the most extreme conditions on the planet.

“What we teach here are life-saving skills, helping those aviators fly safer and that to me is what we’re all about,” said Rustad.

While the numbers are not only good for the company, the manager points out it is also a very positive thing for the local economy.

“We bring lots of people here each year and we certainly support the community in the hip part of the season in terms of hotel man-nights, goods and services, restaurants and other things,” said Rustad. “There are also a considerable amount of landings and takeoffs at the airport which means more revenue here.”

The new facility includes classrooms, boardrooms, pilot lounge, library, study areas, flight planning and debriefing rooms.

The centre also uses the latest in technology, including a state-of-the-art geothermal heating and cooling system.

Topflight was named among the 31 finalists for the Re/MAX Thompson Okanagan Commercial Building Awards which were scheduled to be announced Thursday night in Kelowna.

“This facility cost a lot of money,” said Rustad. “It’s just been such a huge change for us on the positive side and we’re hyped and excited.

“We can now meet and greet with our customers and feel that we’re the world-class school we have the reputation of being.”

 

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