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The aviation industry-specific financial relief that has been offered by the Federal government has focused exclusively on northern operators.  It included a handful of commercial helicopter operators based “North of 60”. Many of our members operate their helicopters in northern and remote areas in the absence of a northern base of operations, and they were excluded from the relief package for Northern operators.  Furthermore, many operators provide their services in areas of Canada that are not “North of 60”, but provide essential services in the most northern and remote parts of Canadian provinces. Each summer, most operators move their aircraft from coast to coast in search of Canada’s hot-spots for forest fire suppression work and other opportunities, irrespective of their base locations.  

We are concerned that many of our operator-members are in extremely difficult circumstances, and are desperately in need of further financial assistance in the form of further direct supplements or grants, or in the form of forgivable loans. We have already seen a number of helicopter business failures, and many other operators have suspended their Commercial Air Operator certificates because they cannot afford to carry the required insurance while their aircraft sit on the ground. If you take a moment to examine the CTA decisions on-line[1], you will see that since mid-March when the COVID-19 pandemic began, 18 different helicopter air operators have surrendered their CTA licenses or had them suspended for a failure to meet the conditions of issuance because they were not able to maintain the required liability insurance, or had their Licences cancelled.  

Most of our operator-members carry out some essential services in one form or another. It could be Air Ambulance, Search & Rescue, or Forest Fire Flighting, Police Services, Powerline or Pipeline patrol, or Hydroelectric work.  To make matters worse for air operators who rely on fire-fighting during the summer season, wet weather this summer has meant fewer fires to fight – and very little revenue. For Canadians who were not threatened by fires this summer, this is a welcome event however, in 2019, in Alberta for example, Firefighting was carried out by 71 different helicopter operators from across the country – roughly 90% of those helicopters were on a call-when-needed basis. Many operators count on casual summer work from firefighting.  If you consider for a moment the National statistics that are available on the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Fighting Centre’s (CIFFC) web site, you will see that Year-to-Date statistics between 2019 and 2020 Year-over-Year, reveal a 90% drop in the National Area Burned statistics[2]. When you consider the National five-year average statistics, 2020 looks even worse.

This association is concerned that the combination of a slow summer firefighting season and the effects of COVID-19 - which are not behind us yet - will result in more Helicopter Air Operators that are not available to carry out our important work. Some of that work will be essential services that will negatively affect the fabric of essential helicopter services available across Canada – and in northern Canada.  Stay tuned as HAC advances this view to key Federal Ministers, and Parliamentary committees.