Perimeter Aviation

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The spirit of flight

This Canadian specialty airliner in the North is in the business of putting First Nations first.

Established in 1960, Perimeter Aviation is a diversified airline company with one of the first multi-engine civil flight training schools in Canada. From a one-man operation to medium-sized company with over 500 employees, Perimeter has taken advantage of market opportunities by diversifying its business over the years to include: aviation maintenance services, training, a 24-hour air ambulance service as well as cargo and chartered flights.

Although Perimeter still offers aviation training, the specialized airline is shifting its focus to its primary business: a scheduled air service into Manitoba and northern Ontario’s most remote communities, as well as providing charter and air ambulance services in those regions and across parts of North America. In fact, it was part of the company’s strategy to steer clear of the domestic airlines.

With scheduled services in remote First Nations communities, Perimeter Aviation has carved a niche market within the competitive airline industry. Despite the downturn in the economy, business has been steady. “The only way to get into these communities is by air; these travelers and communities depend on us,” explains Mark Wehrle, President of Perimeter Aviation. “We’re not subject to the same fluctuations in revenue streams that commercial airlines go through every time there’s an economic problem.”

When Perimeter Aviation first began in 1976, they had only two airplanes that went to three destinations. With over 34 aircrafts and 22 destinations on its schedule, Perimeter is growing. “We’re working with the government to improve the facilities and runways because they were very rustic back in the day and wouldn’t support modern aircrafts,” says Wehrle, adding they also operate a fleet of metros and dash eights.

Partnership adds competitive advantage

Based in Thompson and headquartered in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Perimeter executives were presented another opportunity when a competitor went bankrupt in 2005. “They were a similar size as us, so we were able to pick up some assets and take over most of their routes. Now, we’re pretty much the sole provider for most of these communities,” prides Wehrle. The partnership is also a win-win scenario for the remote communities.

“We entered into partnership agreements with the First Nations communities that we fly into we’ve and they get shares in the profits of the operations and other benefits,” explains Wehrle. Not only it is a financial benefit to these communities, but it has also strategically positioned the company for success as it limits other competitors in these markets. “It’s cheaper to share profits with customers than the competition and it has worked well. We have been able to provide about 30 per cent employment opportunities for First Nations people and actively work together to get more of them involved in higher positions,” he says.

Perimeter was a privately owned company until 2004, when it was sold to an income trust. It recently was converted into a corporation. When Perimeter first went public, it was perfect timing as it brought the accessibility of cash to expand. The company also more than doubled in its size from 2004 to 2005.  “It’s a fun thing to go through,” comments Wehrle.

Performance and safety come first

Aviation happens to be is a highly capital business which is why Perimeter prefers to use high-performance equipment. “There is a big emphasis on safety. We don’t have the same facilities as other modern airports. It’s all gravel runways so we land on rocks every day,” explains Wehrle. Being able to operate in such environments takes a great deal of commitment to training and developing procedures to meet the safety standards.

“We have invested $500, 000 into training, including the construction of a flight simulator to train pilots; we’re probably one of the few airports our size that has a training device of that magnitude,” says Wehrle. He adds it enables them to “offer training to other companies that have the same equipment.”

In-house capabilities stand out in the sky

With in-house engine overhaul facilities, Perimeter runs its own maintenance operations that support the aircraft from cradle to grave. “We can manufacture our own parts, so we have control over the whole operation and we’re dependent on anyone else, with respect to our operation. It took us 40 years to do that, but once you get there, you start to see the real dividends,” shares Wehrle.

In addition to its manufacturing capabilities, Perimeter takes pride in its engineers who work with third party customers for structural repairs and testing. “We specialize and invest in different parts of the aviation business but, having said that, the crop also owns Keewatin Air, which operates an air ambulance and scheduled service to the Nunavut area and recently bought a large operator called ComAir  for heavy freight in Manitoba. All three of us are in different parts of the aviation industry within the province and between the three of us, we blanket the market,” he tells.

When it comes to flying in the North, you can rely on Perimeter Aviation and its strong partners for hassle-free operating in over 21 communities in Manitoba and Ontario.

For more information on their destinations, routes and a range of services, visit: www.perimeter.ca.

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