Yukon helicopter operators preparing for winter season after 'very slow start' this summer

·2 min read

Helicopter companies in Yukon are hoping to stay in the air this winter after a sluggish start to their summer season.

Melvin Lagersson, president of Capital Helicopters, said a lot of their work was put on hold when the pandemic hit.

"There was very little work in the spring … it was a very, very slow start," he said.

And with very few forest fires and a rainy summer season in the territory, it was already bound to be a slower summer than usual.

This year, 24 fires burned across the territory over an area of about 151 square kilometres, according to the Yukon government's numbers. That is a significant dip from last year — which saw 177 wildfires across the territory, burning about 2,800 square kilometres.

With the opening of the British Columbia border, Lagersson said the mining and exploration industry kept them afloat as the summer progressed.

"If it wasn't for the exploration then I think that most of the companies up here would probably have closed their doors. That's what kept everyone going, I think, this summer," he said.

Cole Hodinski, operations manager and chief pilot for Horizon Helicopters, said his company faced similar issues, missing out on the "huge amount of work" that forest fires usually create in warmer months.

He hopes as they move into "slow-down season," the company can pick up local contracts.

"Historically, you know, the winters are slow in the Yukon and that's why all the local operators have pushed so much to keep what local work there is," he said.

The Yukon government's support is "very important" Hodinski added.

"[The Yukon government] does procure a lot of helicopter time, especially throughout the winter, and that is the time the local employees need the help."

Mike Rudyk/CBC
Mike Rudyk/CBC

Fred Jones, president of the Helicopter Association of Canada, said it has been an "absolutely brutal" year for the aviation industry, but helicopter operators have been especially hit hard.

"For the most part, it's seasonal operations ... when they needed it most — there was no work there at a time of the year when they were expecting to be strong out of the gates," Jones said.

He said the number of fires that occurred this summer across the country were down 90 per cent from last year.

"There is extreme hardship occurring to virtually all helicopter operators across Canada," he said.

"In the South, there are other ways to get things done ... but in the North, [helicopters are] absolutely essential, particularly to the remote Indigenous and Northern small communities."