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Meet Fred Jones

October 31, 2008  By Ken Pole

It’s fair to say that the industry is abuzz over the appointment of Fred Jones as President and Chief Executive Officer of the Helicopter Association of Canada.

HAC’s New President and CEO

It’s fair to say that the industry is abuzz over the appointment of Fred Jones as President and Chief Executive Officer of the Helicopter Association of Canada. It also could be said that even though he began his professional life as a lawyer, Jones’ overriding passion is flying, an interest seeded by his bomber pilot father. Even his hobby, backyard beekeeping, could be seen as part of that passion despite the aerodynamic differences between helicopters and bees.

During a lengthy conversation over morning coffee in the sun-splashed living room of his rural Ottawa Valley home, looking out toward his two beehives, Jones demurred at the apian-rotary connection. “Fifty thousand angry bees can be very relaxing after some of the days I have in the office,” he chuckled, explaining that it's a hobby that fits nicely into his professional and family lifestyles.

For each of the last few years, Jones has flown Bell 206 LongRangers for Helicopter Transport Services Canada, operated by industry veteran Luc Pilon out of Carp Airport just west of Ottawa.
(Photo by Alain G. Dagenais)

“Bees are maligned insects; they work from dawn to dusk for nothing” and don’t seem to mind too much when someone steals their food. Jones harvests 200-350 pounds of honey annually.” As long as you don't do something really crazy, like dropping one of the boxes on the ground, they just go on about their business.”


Away from home, Jones is all about business too, having put in nearly two decades in Ottawa at Transport Canada, the Air Transport Association of Canada (ATAC) and the Canadian Airports Council (CAC) before moving to the HAC at the beginning of September. Throughout it all, however, he has maintained his licences, taking leave most summers to fly commercially – an initiative he feels gives him credibility in the aviation industry overall while indulging his passion.

“My father flew Lancasters in World War II and so when I expressed an interest in learning to fly he was very supportive,” Jones recounted. “Although he held a commercial licence after the war, he only flew recreationally when I was growing up.” Jones eventually took instruction at the London Flying Club and got his private fixed-wing licence in 1976 before going on to get night, float, instrument and air transport pilot licences.

After high school, he took an undergraduate degree at the University of Western Ontario and then decided to go to law school at the University of Ottawa. But when he finished law school, he opted not to article and seek admission to the Ontario Bar. “A conventional practice of law wasn't for me; aviation was really my passion.”

Although he had managed to fly fixed-wing throughout school, he had always harboured a desire to fly helicopters too, but was rejected when he applied to get into the highly-rated program at Canadore College in North Bay, Ont.

“I think they were concerned about why someone who’d already been to university for six years would be interested in flying helicopters,” he said. “I can understand that: they were looking at somebody who would do the course and possibly never have any involvement in the helicopter industry again. Also, I think their funding was dependent on graduates finding work in the industry and they had stated that living and working experience in the helicopter industry, and in a remote environment, was one of their criteria.”

During his years with Transport Canada, ATAC and the CAC, Jones kept his hand in flying by taking leave most summers to fly commercially, including a season with Niagara Helicopters.  

Faced with rejection, Jones decided to take advantage of a summer work experience program with the RCMP in his hometown, London, as a Special Constable. As it happened, the Staff Sergeant, Ches Summers, with whom Jones got along well, went next door to the provincial Crown Attorney’s office and asked whether they wanted an articling law student for the coming year. When they expressed interest, Summers gave them Jones’ resumé.” Without my knowledge or consent!” Jones recounted, still amused by Summers’ tactics. “After providing a reference, he came back and said, ‘if you're looking for an articling position, they’d be delighted to interview you next door and I’ve already given you my endorsement.’

“I articled with them that year and made a second application to Canadore College, still determined to get into the program. After I was turned down again, I’d sort of decided ‘three strikes and I’m out and I’m going to have to pay for this myself’ and I was sort of preparing to do that mentally, if not financially.”

So, again with no real plans, he put in six months on the bar admission course, but toward the end, applied a third time to Canadore, this time being accepted. “I think they just got tired of hearing from me! I got into the program, which was just terrific. . . . I look back at it as probably the best year of my life.”

While in North Bay, Jones had heard good things about Timmins-based Huisson Aviation. Its owner-operator, Dick Huisson, made a point of hiring at least one, sometimes two or more, Canadore graduates each season. So the fledgling helicopter pilot began writing to Huisson, each time he had achieved a training milestone such as a first solo flight and slinging. That led to an invitation to visit Timmins for a tour and Jones was one of two Canadore graduates Huisson hired the following year.

Jones harvests 200-350 pounds of honey annually as part of his backyard beekeeping hobby.  

He flew workhorse JetRangers and Bell 222s for two seasons out of Timmins and Moosonee. Jones had 2,000-2,500 hours of fixed-wing time as well as sundry ratings in his log on arriving in Timmins and when the provincial health ministry – from which Huisson had a standing offer to provide medevac services – wanted anyone flying those missions to have an IFR rating, there was virtually no one else at Huisson who qualified. So the “newbie” found himself training others to IFR standards during the winter. “I did a bunch of simulator time with some of Dick’s crews, and some Cessna 172 time, which was my background at the time, and then we transitioned most everyone to rotary-wing at Huisson Helicopters.”

When Jones graduated from Canadore College, in typical fashion he had sent his resumé all over the country, including to Transport Canada, which acknowledged it but didn't respond with any offers. “So I built up time at Huisson’s flying fires, aerial surveys, wildlife work and a wide variety of JetRanger flying.”

Then he got a letter “out of the blue” from Transport, which had pulled his application and resumé‚ from its files. It wanted a lawyer-pilot for its enforcement division and it became Jones’ job to work on appeals, on behalf of the Transport Minister, before the Civil Aviation Tribunal, which is now the multi-modal Transportation Appeal Tribunal of Canada.

“Once a certificate-holder had been through the ‘trial’ – I use that term loosely – if either the Minister or the certificate-holder were unhappy with the decision, either side could appeal it.” A “big believer” in the adversarial system because of its balance, he points out that the individuals who preside over the hearings are from the aviation industry, mostly pilots or engineers with the requisite knowledge and background.

Jones graduated from Canadore College and was immediately hired by Timmins, Ont.-based Huisson Aviation.  

“Not only do they understand the regula-tory structure, they also have an understanding of what it’s like to be out in the industry. . . . Each side puts its case forward in evidence and then an impartial adjudicator who has some industry experience sorts the wheat from the chaff. . . . From my perspective, the outcome was pretty reasonable in most cases. If someone was doing something that they knew was wrong, they knew was unsafe, I think that’s a black mark on the industry. What’s more, it may very well result in an accident; it’s a disregard for the rules.”

Jones did that for a couple of years and although the work was “very interesting,” he chafed at the professional constraints of working with a big bureaucracy. So he applied to become a Transportation Safety Board investigator. After training as an accident investigator with the U.S. Federal Aviation Admin-istration in Oklahoma City, he was tasked back at the TSB with drafting safety studies which he said were “a more in-depth look” at high-profile accidents with a view to drafting safety recommendations for the TSB. Again, working with “good people” was “fascinating” but after nearly two years, his underlying frustration with bureaucracy kicked in and he resigned with no definite prospects in sight.

“I wasn’t married at that point,” he grinned, conceding that it would be “a different issue today, no question.” Paren-thetically, his wife, Natalie, was about halfway through her private licence at the time, but hasn’t continued even though she and their daughters, Rachel and Riley, have flown extensively with Fred, who owned a Mooney for several years. “The issue of learning to fly has come up with my eldest, who’s 12,” Jones laughed. “You’ve got to get them early. I’m a big believer that you have to start the brainwashing process early!”

Meanwhile, having left the TSB, he still had current ATPL and helicopter qualifications, having continued to fly at Transport and the TSB. “I knew I wouldn’t be unemployed for very long.” However, he learned that ATAC was looking for someone to serve their helicopter members, fixed-wing air taxi and commuter operators in support of their vice-president (operations). “I was at ATAC for 12 years,” he said, almost sighing. “Time flies. One of the reasons I stayed that long was that they were very supportive and the helicopter membership at ATAC was supportive of my returning to fly on a contract basis during the summers, when the regulatory process tended to slow down.”

Taking four or five weeks of paid and unpaid leave each year, he flew three seasons with Great Slave Helicopters in the Western Arctic and one season with Niagara Helicopters. It not only kept ATAC in the loop about what was going on in the field, it also bolstered the organization’s credibility. “We were better able to appreciate the problems that our helicopter operator members were experiencing. It was a good arrangement all ‘round and, of course, I got to fly – which was the best part!”

For each of the last few years, Jones has flown Bell 206 LongRangers for Helicopter Transport Services Canada, operated by industry veteran Luc Pilon out of Carp Airport just west of Ottawa. He hopes to continue flying – not only to maintain his credibility but also indulge his passion. It has been broached with the HAC board of directors but Jones feels it should be discussed on a year-by-year basis. “I haven’t gone back to fly every year since coming to Ottawa because some years there are personal or association things which can take priority.”

After 12 years at ATAC, the Canadian Airports Council, which was formed in the early ’90s, took an interest in Jones because of his association background and experience. “I learned a lot at ATAC, from working under more experienced people there and hopefully I brought some value to the Canadian Airports Council because it was still a very young association.” He found himself responsible for the CAC’s operations committee, for safety, environmental and security issues as well as liaison with its legal committee. “It was a mouthful for the first couple of years and, in fairness to the CAC, no one really understood what the demands of the membership were going to be. I was spread pretty thin.”

He agreed that the CAC’s interests could be considered more unified than ATAC’s because in some ways it is easier to represent a more focused segment of the aviation community. “I still believe that as far as government is concerned, their preference would be to come to one association that speaks for the whole industry; it’s just easier,” Jones said. “It’s a very delicate line to walk because you’re representing such a broad spectrum of operators. . . The wheels can come off.”

An ongoing issue with ATAC is the disparate and sometimes competing interests of its members, but Jones said the same can be said about the HAC and the CAC and their members. The CAC, he said, was an “eye-opening experience” because airports can be extremely competitive in terms of their costs and their carrier fees, efficiency and governance structures. “Some airports are competitive in the same way as air operators are when they’re competing for similar markets. When airports are geographically close, they can compete for traffic head to head in the same way as air operators. Even when they’re at opposite ends of the country, they can be very competitive in other ways.”

While the CAC was more homogeneous than, say, ATAC, it was still a broad-based organization with large and small airports represented, each with different interests and issues. “In some ways you’re still walking the line to balance interests and trying to unify the airport community around common interests. . . .

“The strength of a more focused group such as the Helicopter Association of Canada is that you can concentrate on the interests of helicopter operators. You have to work with other stakeholders, you have to be collaborative because, for example, any association is unlikely to be in a position to persuade Nav Canada to a particular point of view on any given issue, generally speaking. You’re going to have to work with other stakeholders to find a solution that can work for helicopters operators that also works for flight training operators in the fixed-wing area, and for the large carriers. So there’s very much still a role to be played working collaboratively with others.”

Jokes about lawyer-pilots and “flight suits” aside, Jones’ legal training is a definite plus in that much of his career has been defined by working with the regulations, Transport Canada, other stakeholders and still maintaining his operational connections. “In the association business, if you don’t have credibility, you have nothing. Even if you have a good idea, no one’s going to believe you, no one’s going to meet with you if they can’t trust you. You’ve got to be able to shoot straight with people and I believe that I’ve cultivated that relationship over the past 15 or 18 years in Ottawa with all of the stakeholders that I have had to work with.”

“There’s a place for a more aggressive form of advocacy . . . but you’ve got to remember first that you’re part of an aviation community, only one stakeholder in the community, and to accomplish anything you’ve got to have the ability to work collaboratively with others. I’ve seen many issues over the years where different segments of the aviation community have common cause and you’ve got to have the credibility, the advocacy skills, the personal skills, to bring like-minded segments of the industry together to work with you to achieve your objectives.”

At one point, Jones had resigned from the Law Society of Upper Canada (the profession’s governing body in Ontario) but renewed it and recovered his licence to practise law when he found himself under pressure to do more general counsel work within the CAC. It had been pointed out that the organization was contracting out a lot of legal work which could be done in-house. “I’m sure there are real opportunities for additional services inside HAC too. I intend to maintain my Law Society membership . . . not to mention the ‘softer’ skills that legal training provides: advocacy skills, experience with enforcement issues, personal contacts and access to information, the knowledge of the whole regulatory process and how to navigate around it.”

Jones likens his introduction to the HAC to “drinking from a fire hose” in terms of the amount of information he must take in. “What I’ve been able to swallow so far is that the helicopter community is maturing; they have come together around an association, they have a committee structure that could use some support. Part of my challenge will be to cultivate and improve the relationship with Transport Canada, the regulator, and with other stakeholders and to facilitate communications between members through the association.”

Safety, as always for Jones and others in the community, is paramount. “Pilots and engineers are partners in making safety happen; they’re a very important source of information for operators. They’re the cornerstones of the information that flows into a safety management system. Those are a few of the objectives that I see.”

Staying on top of the ever-evolving Canadian Air Regulations structure has been part of Jones’ background and he expects to continue doing it. There is the possibility that it could fall to a vice-president (operations) position which evidently is under discussion, but until such time as that becomes reality, Jones plans to keep his hands on the regulatory process.
“We’re in one of the most heavily-regulated industries and, like it or not, we’ve got to be able to work with the regulator to ensure that the environment continues to be safe but still promotes the use of helicopters and makes it as safe and as efficient as possible for operators to do business.

“Anything that makes it easier for operators to do business and where operators are less constrained and obstructed by the regulatory environment, makes for a more efficient and more profitable industry – a more buoyant industry. . . . Anything that we can do to draw the department’s attention to regulations which make it more difficult for operators to do business will bring added value to the association’s members.”

Issues to be addressed sooner rather than later include the time Transport takes to approve amendments to operations manuals, paperwork delays that hamper operational efficiencies, and expanded delegation of authority which would have operators accepting more responsibility for things currently done by the department.

But doesn’t delegation present opportunities for corner-cutting? That would not be in operators’ best interests, but it can and does happen worldwide. Jones conceded the point. “In any business there will be operators who try to cut corners in an illegitimate way,” he replied. “However, I think Transport Canada would agree that the movement to delegate is an indication of a maturing industry – it’s in their Flight 2010 document – they will be looking for opportunities to further delegate to industry. I think that’s based on the largely positive experience the department has had with existing delegations.”

Jones said the Approved Check Pilot initiative is just one example of how the industry can assume responsibility for activity that has historically been conducted by Transport. “Their experience has been very positive in the fixed-wing and helicopter industries for activities that have been delegated. As the helicopter industry matures further and demonstrates a willingness and ability to accept and carry out further responsibility, I believe we’ll find Transport Canada’s willing to sit down and discuss that with us.”

Not all helicopter operators in Canada, roughly 210, are HAC members and Jones obviously would like to see that situation change. One of his challenges is to ensure that non-members as well as members are aware of what he’s up to so that they see value in HAC membership.


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