Wildcat Helicopters takes innovativetechnology to new heights. TheBritish Columbia based aerialfirefighting company regularly entersinto some of the most dangerousenvironments in the world, plungingtheir helicopters into forest fires,suppressing the flames andprotecting both human habitationand natural wildlife.
THE CANADIAN BUSINESS JOURNAL first discovered Wildcat Helicopters in December 2010.We focused on the brands development, its transition from general aerial services to specialists inairborne fire management, and the safety precautions necessary in such a dangerous industry.
Once again we spoke with Ian Wilson, VicePresident of Wildcat Helicopters, seeking anupdate on the company.
“We’ve expanded our fleet, added new technology, and entering new markets,” Wilson tellsus. Hearing this, we knew we needed to revisitWildcat Helicopters.
In 1998, husband and wife Mike and CherylMichaud founded Wildcat Helicopters as a general aerial service company. The duo based Wildcat Helicopters in Kelowna, British Columbia,yet demand for the company’s services provedthe need for global expansion. As WildcatHelicopters has expanded, it has grown morespecialized. The Michaud’s had decided thatan all encompassing approach wasn’t in theirfuture. In 2004, they focused the full efforts ofWildcat Helicopters on the firefighting market.
“We looked at the firefighting market anddecided it wasn’t being well represented by thehelicopter community,” Wilson told us in 2010.“We wanted to support worldwide firefightingagencies in a way that no else had done before.”
In addition to the Michaud’s and Wilson, theexecutive management group at Wildcat includes: Management Adviser Dr. Ebby Aslani; CGA Don Pettman; Vice President of Maintenance Patrick Renaud; and Chief Pilot Dave Hauber. There are 55 employees in total, including 13 highly skilledpilots and 18 equally skilled engineers. About 12 staff members have been dedicated to a major aircraft upgrading program, which has evolved over the past three years.
Today, Wildcat Helicopters is a leader in theaerial firefighting specialty market. The companydecided to expand its fleet in 2012, adding fourBell 412SP Wildfire aircrafts to their existing sixBell 212BLR Wildfire helicopters. The Wildfiredesignation identifies the aircrafts as speciallydesigned and equipped for firefighting.
Wildcat Helicopters became the flagshipcompany to install the BLR Aerospace FastfinSystem, a performance enhancement kit thatincreases helicopter lift by about 8%. WildcatHelicopters now operates nine BLR systems in itsfleet. Helicopter manufacturers across the worldcurrently install BLR Aerospace Fastfin Systemson all newly constructed aircrafts.
Wildcat Helicopters’ fleet maintains a serviceabilityrecord of over 99%; two aircrafts have held a 100% serviceability record during their tenure. “We’ve made huge investments in technological advancement,” Wilson says. “Our statsshow the excellence of our engineering personnel and their ability to recognize areas forimprovement and implementing them quickly.”
Unlike its competitors, Wildcat Helicopters equips each aircraft with at least one pilot, one engineer, and one client observer upon deployment. The pilot rarely flies alone, which increases safety and ensures all operations remain transparent.
“Through having the three individuals on board, we ensure that the pilot is safe, the machine can be serviced quickly in an emergency, and that we maintain direct contact with the client,”Wilson notes. “This direct contact allows us to build invaluable business relationships.”
Creating a Niche
Wildcat Helicopters holds four main long termcontracts with the Australian federal government,British Columbia’s Wildfire Management division, the Ontario Ministry of Natural ResourcesCanada, and Heliski downhill skiing in locationsonly accessible by helicopter.
“We only have four clients,” Wilson confirms.“We need to ensure we’re on top of our service,providing everything we promised and more,maintain competitive prices, and offer everyresource possible to make our clients jobs safestand most efficient.”
Wildcat Helicopters’ services make it eligible for nine specialty firefighting contacts in Canada. The company currently holds eight. In Australia, it holds three out of three total available contracts.
The complementary seasonal variationbetween Canada and Australia allows WildcatHelicopters to operate at full capacity yearround. While the Canadian aerial firefightingsector peaks in July and August, weather conditions during the winter months nearly removethe need for the service. Yet in Australia, thesummer peak occurs in December and January.Through focusing efforts on both countries,Wildcat Helicopters can consistently run its fleet,thus providing full year employment for staff andgaining a continual stream of profit.
Getting the Job Done
The most important factor in Wildcat Helicopter’soperations is the staff it employs. The passionand desire to excel runs through the blood ofevery person Wildcat Helicopters employs – be itmanagement, pilots, engineer, or administration.
Maintaining absolute equality is a crucial part of Wildcat Helicopter’s human resources approach.
“Most companies have a maintenancedepartment, being the engineers, and an operationsteam, the pilots. These operate separately– some even in competition with each other.We keep both engineers and pilots under theoperations banner; they work as a team,” Wilsonremarks. “The pilot assumes more direct risk, butthe engineer assumes responsibility for the successful functioning of the aircraft.”
“Our pilots and engineers form a core partnership vital to the company,” Wilson adds.
Wildcat Helicopters, recognizing the dangerous nature of its industry, consistently looks forways to keep its staff healthy and happy. Pilotsand engineers work on a rotation roster throughout the year (ie. 28 days on the job; 21 days off),allowing staff to properly balance their careerand personal lives.
Despite the larger size and scope of thecompany, Wildcat Helicopters maintains community values.
“We realize our success stems from ourstaffs’ commitment. Cheryl Michaud sends packages to the families of the workers at the end ofeach summer, thanking them for their support.When an employee is expecting a baby, eitherman or woman, we write them out of the rosterso they can spend three to five months as a family while still being paid,” Wilson states.
Wildcat Helicopters is also involved in thewider community. The company actively donatesto and participates in local food banks, women’sgroups, cancer foundations, and environmentalawareness initiatives. For every in house fundraiser the staff undertakes, Wildcat Helicoptersmatches the donation’s dollar-for-dollar.
As Wilson explains, “For us, giving back isn’ta selling scheme. We try not to gain recognitionthrough our donations.”
Wildcat Helicopters has experienced boominggrowth over the past decade. Yet, according toWilson, the company now wants to focus on“slow, sustainable growth.”
“We’re looking to consolidate what we have, improve it, and eventually enter into new markets,” he remarks. “We’ve been looking to expand for the past five years, but the timing hasn’t been right. We needed the financial backing. Now, we’ve decided to consolidate our fleet, make investments in aircraft enhancement, and make our presence in existing and new markets stronger.”
Wildcat Helicopters’ plans for consolidation involve a complete overhaul program of current systems and operations. The company goal is to provide the best service to every client, every flight.
Through continuously providing exemplaryservice, Wildcat Helicopters keeps ahead of thecompetition and proves its claim as one of thevery best aerial firefighting companies in theworld.
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