Safety & Training
Editorial: Inspiring stories
March 27, 2018 By Patrick Flannery
Ss a newcomer to this industry, I must say I was amazed by Colin Pelton’s story of fighting B.C. and Alberta wildfires, as told by Paul Dixon on page 14. The long hours, the dangerous conditions, the lack of communication, the unpredictable demands, the skill and expertise required, the stress of seeing people and property threatened – I had no idea that flying helicopters could be such a heroic activity.
My one and only helicopter trip was a tour over Niagara Falls. My two main thoughts were that the door I was pressed up against seemed awfully flimsy and that if that whirlygig on the top stopped going around, we were going to turn into a falling rock. I actually had heard of autorotation, but hadn’t heard anything good about it.
Finding out that fighting forest fires was such a big part of what helicopter pilots do in parts of this country made my entrepreneurial side wonder if this is a growth industry. That turns out to be hard to determine. As Dixon reports, 2017 was a record year for wildfires in B.C., but the country overall had fewer fires than the 10-year average. The effects of climate change are the big variable, but it seems unclear just what they will be. Natural Resources Canada states rather flatly that climate change will increase the number of fires and damage done by fire, which makes sense at first blush when one thinks about higher temperatures. But later in the same article NRCan blames a lower rate of fires in some areas due to increased precipitation due to…climate change. So does climate change make fires more likely or less likely? I suppose the answer depends on where you are in the country. Hotter weather here in southern Ontario usually means more thunderstorms off the lakes and higher humidity. I suspect that’s not true in the Okanagan.
Whether or not the overall demand for wildfire-fighting helicopter pilots rises, there is clearly an opportunity in the business for any young person thinking about a career in aviation. By all accounts, resources for firefighting are stretched to the breaking point – thus the long hours for existing pilots. It’s a great time for anyone with a passion for flying and an adventurous streak to attend one of our upcoming Careers in Aviation Expos to ask the experts what is involved in becoming a rotary wing pilot. Our Toronto event takes place April 28 followed by an Expo in Edmonton on May 12. Attendees will have a chance to hear talks by top experts on just about every aspect of aviation and to sit at mentor tables in small groups. You might even hear some stories like Pelton’s right from the horse’s mouth.
I hope we see lots of women at the CIA Expo. I’ve been interested since getting involved with this magazine to see the determined push from all quarters to get women interested in aviation roles, from the Women in Aviation section in the magazine through events like Girls Take Flight, happening April 21 in Oshawa, Ont. Girls Take Flight is organized by the Canadian Ninety-Nines, a chapter of an international organization founded in 1929, which now spans 44 countries. With an organization like that, it seems inevitable that we’ll see great improvement in the level of female participation in our industry. Helicopters magazine will certainly be dropping in to check it out and report on the day in these pages.
Speaking of women in aviation, don’t miss our inaugural Visionaries feature interview with Cathy Press, CEO of Chinook Helicopters, on page 24. Press is celebrating 20 years at the helm of Chinook and is presiding over its addition of fixed-wing training services. She’s a real inspiration to anyone, male or female, who is considering a career in aviation.
Press was interviewed by our correspondent, Paul Dixon, who also contributed our cover story in addition to his regular column. Sadly, this is the last we’ll be hearing from Paul in these pages. He’s announced his retirement from writing in this magazine to focus on a book and his photography. Dixon was a big part of Helicopters magazine for the last 10 years and his insight will be missed. Best of luck in the new ventures, Paul!