Two enterprises find success at Edmonton’s City Centre Airport
By Jodi Richards
EDMONTON — City Centre Airport here has been closed to commercialtraffic since a 1995 referendum, but that hasn’t hindered the opportunitiesfor based businesses. NWI Jet, a charter company, and STARS — AlbertaShock Trauma Air Rescue Society (see sidebar) — a non-profit medivacoperator, are just two of the companies growing here.
According to Jeff Goyer, manager, NWI Jet, the company is a division of Northwest International Airways, Ltd., which was founded in 1963 by Bob Engle. Engle created a float plane charter operation out of the northern community of Yellowknife, Northwest Territorial Airways (NWT Air). Goyer says the business grew through the ‘70s and ‘80s into a scheduled airline using larger aircraft, including DC3s, DC6s, and Boeing 737s.
In the late ‘80s, the airline portion of the company was sold to Air Canada. Engle retained the fleet of airplanes and continued to lease the Boeing 737s and a Lockheed Hercules that was used for cargo operations. Air Canada eventually sold NWT Air to another operator, which continues to lease the aircraft from Northwest International Airways.
After the sale of the airline, Engle purchased two Citation IIs, which were primarily for his own use. “But, being the businessman that he is,” says Goyer, “he started a charter operation of the aircraft.”
Currently, NWI Jet has bases at Vancouver International Airport, Yellowknife International Airport, and Edmonton City Centre.
The Edmonton location opened on January 1, 2004 and Goyer says the company leases hangar and office space from the Shell Aerocentre on a five-year lease. On average, the charter company is seeing ten to 14 operations monthly.
According to Goyer, Edmonton has predominantly been a turboprop market in the past. NWI Jet’s aircraft is the only jet available for charter here. “We’re hoping that we’ll bring the people that have been chartering turboprops up to the next level with the jet. The timing’s right for that.”
Goyer sees a lot of opportunity in the Edmonton market, particularly with the growth of Northern Alberta and the oil industry. “I see a great opportunity here as the price of oil continues to go up and stays strong, which brings revenue to our province, so you see a lot of companies starting to get into their own airplanes again, and some people who have never owned an airplane before buying them.”
Goyer says there are already plans in the works for expansion, namely adding a larger jet, and breaking into the aircraft management market.
“Currently the one aircraft we have here in Edmonton,” he explains, “is used for corporate charter and we do some aeromedical work for Alberta Health. We’re not on contract, but we help out when they need us. I think what we’d like to do here is get a larger aircraft for this base and keep the [Citation II] for aeromedical and smaller charters.”
The aircraft management market is lagging behind that of the U.S., but Goyer says he’s starting to see a demand for the service and expects it will be a good market for NWI Jet. “With the management team and the experience that we have within our company, we can bring a lot to these new companies that are wanting to buy airplanes. We have the resources to fill that need.”
Alberta Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society (STARS) is a non-profit charitable organization, with bases at City Centre Airport in Edmonton and Calgary International Airport. Since 1985, it has provided emergency aeromedical transport to critically ill and injured patients within a 250 kilometer radius of either city.
According to Joe Acker, GM of the Edmonton base, organization CEO Dr. Greg Powell began seeing an influx of patients from rural areas that were either dying or being permanently disabled because of delay times in transport. “Alberta, having the geography that it does, a lot of areas are a long way from Edmonton and Calgary,” says Acker.
Powell, along with some colleagues, approached local service organizations to generate revenue to lease a helicopter. Doctors, emergency medical technicians, and paramedics volunteered to staff the helicopter out of Calgary.
The non-profit has evolved greatly since then, adding the Edmonton base in 1991. STARS had been leasing aircraft until 1996 when it raised enough funds to purchase two BK 117s, and has since purchased two more.
Thirty percent of STARS’s funding comes from government health care, Alberta Health. “That’s new since about 1994,” says Acker. “And that is only when we fly. So when we fly, they pay us a per hour rate, which is about 50 percent of our operation.” The remaining 70 percent of the company’s budget comes from fund raisers; the primary one being a conventional lottery, which Acker bills as the “biggest, fastest selling lottery in the Province.” STARS generates some $7 million net from the lottery. The remainder of funds comes from a calendar campaign, as well as unsolicited donations.
According to Acker, the funding of STARS is what makes it unique and ideal for patient care. “The focus of our board of directors and management team, which is mostly physicians and medical people, is patient care. Dollars don’t drive our decisionmaking. We’re not out there making a profit. We’re out there to do what’s best for patients.
STARS employs nine full-time pilots at its Edmonton base and eleven in Calgary. The 24/7 operation also benefits from paramedics, doctors, and nurses that work on an honorarium basis.
Acker says STARS performs some 13,000 operations a year, which equates to some 80 to 100 hours of flying each month, Edmonton and Calgary bases combined.