Expansion plans get off the ground

Canadian Helicopters has begun work on 20,000 square foot facility at Penticton Regional Airport

An aerial view shows construction currently underway on the Canadian Helicopters property at the Penticton Regional Airport this week. The expanded facilities will house the School of Advanced Flight Training.

Canadian Helicopters is taking a giant leap into the aviation future with the multi-million expansion now underway at the Penticton Regional Airport.

The new facility measuring just over 20,000 square feet will incorporate state-of-the-art design that will complement the internationally-renowned School of Advanced Flight Training run by the company.

“This is an exciting new step into a building that’s going to be world class and really representative of the class of school and the operation that we are here in Penticton,” said Jan Rustad, the company’s chief flight instructor and business development manager. “I’ve always believed that we would evolve, and with these new beginnings we are certainly doing that.

“When this is finished and when our customers come to this facility it’s going to make that much more of an impression and it’s certainly going to put Penticton that much more on the map.”

Best known internationally for its mountain-flying program, the business’s new school will have more classrooms and much improved technology to pass along that information.

The school attracts elite pilots from around the world, training military personnel, paramilitary, police and government organizations as well as those from the corporate and commercial sector.

It also teaches domestic pilots mountain rescue and aerial wildfire fighting.

Some of the clients include the Canadian Armed Forces, the FBI and the U.S. Navy Seals, and the plaques and pictures hanging on Rustad’s office wall testify to the level of customer satisfaction.

“The gratifying thing about this is that these pilots are tasked with peace-time and peace-keeping operations world wide in places like Afghanistan and in their own countries rescuing people in peril,” said the manager who has been a pilot for 43 years. “What we teach here are life-saving skills, helping those aviators fly safer, and that to me is what we’re all about.”

He maintained the reason for the success and reputation of the school is a direct reflection on his dedicated staff who safely do their job under some of the harshest of conditions.

“I am very proud of them because they are the ones that are carrying the torch high, they’re the ones that are continuing to push us to new heights and my hat goes off to them,” said Rustad.

Economically, the larger facility will have a positive impact on the number of landings and takeoffs for which they pay a fee to Transport Canada as well as to the city’s economy through the purchase of goods and services.

The school currently trains as many as 300 pilots annually and accounts for up to 3,000 aircraft movements a year.

Airport manager David Allen is also pleased to see the project go ahead.

“It shows they (Canadian) have a confidence in the market and they have a confidence in Penticton Airport which is a double whammy,” he said. “This is very important for the airport in terms of a sustainability thing and it’s going to give us life going into the future.

“It shows the community is coming together behind the airport and they want to keep it.”

Rustad echoed that assessment:  “It just demonstrates the strength of the company to forge ahead at one of the deepest troubled economic times in the history of the world. For me this is a dream come true.”

Both men pointed to the co-operative efforts between all of those involved with improving the airport’s status, especially the Penticton Indian Band on whose land the facility sits.

Canadian’s manager feels the progressive thought process of the chief and council is a key ingredient in its forward movement.

It is hoped to have the project completed sometime in June of next year.