The Sky’s The Limit
By Anna Guy
For nearly a quarter century, White River Helicopter has serviced the flightseeing, heli-tours, heli-fishing, oil and gas and mining exploration and forestry industries in Northwestern British Columbia. Over all that time, one thing never changes: the transcendent feeling clients experience seeing the natural beauty of the region from a helicopter.
Headquartered on the west end of Terrace, B.C., minutes from the downtown core and Northwest Regional Airport, White River Helicopters was started by Sid Peltier, to serve the communities and region of the rugged BC north coast. This remote region the company normally operates in spans north to the Alaska border and into the Stikine area, west to the port of Prince Rupert, south down the Douglas channel to the area around Klemtu and east into the Bulkley Valley-Lakes District.
White River Helicopter’s commitment to safety and providing excellent customer service is key to the company’s long-term success. The team of experienced pilots and staff are dedicated to maintaining the highest standards of service and professionalism while providing a full suite of services to its clients.
Peltier, along with a team of pilots headed by Training Pilot Ryan Madley, has over 40 years of experience flying in different types of helicopters in various areas of Canada. Peltier, a highly experienced pilot in seismic, oil and gas exploration, and power line construction, has been flying throughout B.C., Alberta, the Northwest Territories and the Yukon his whole career. He has flown numerous types of helicopters, including Jet Rangers, A-Stars, and Bell Mediums. Training pilot, Ryan Madley, has more than 9 years’ experience and 7,000 flight hours.
All White River pilots have AStar 350 and Bell 206 endorsements, and usually require a minimum of 3000 hours flying as Pilot-in-Command, with experience doing precision flying, long lining, mountain and coastal flying.
Peltier credits White River’s commitment to exemplary service and anticipation of client needs as key to the company’s nearly 25 years. “Because of the quality of service I give [clients] and by anticipating their aircraft needs before they do, when they required additional capabilities from aircraft I was in the position to offer that to them,” says Peltier. “And because we kept small, I was able to offer that continuity of services, with the same experienced pilots always on the job; so the same group of people working for them and same quality of service. And if at any time there were any issues, it took one phone call and they were dealing with the president directly, one-on-one.”
“Our clients get to know the pilots and build a rapport,” says Suzette Estacaille, Safety and Administration Support. “They know [Peltier] and his personality and reputation—as they do with [Madley] who has his own client base. It is very much a trust issue with the pilot, you trust him to make the right decision and not take undue risks, which is crucial for your reputation in the industry.
“In the regions we serve, our pilots are specially trained for mountain flying,” continues Estacaille. “With so many mountains and valleys, quickly changing coastal weather and the conditions that those can create, we fly in unique conditions that we are properly trained for.”
White River Helicopter’s fleet is equipped to take on any need— including heavy lifts of up to 1,800 pounds required for precision long-line delivery of drills and crews into remote locations. White River Helicopters are often relied on for support in moving supplies, crew and exploration drills, aerial construction support, fire suppression and infrared scanning in their fleet of Airbus AS350 B-2, Airbus AS350 BA, and Bell 206 Jet Rangers.
“Around here there are pretty steep mountains with no easy access to them except by air,” says Estacaille. “Our customers tell us what they need, whether it’s moving crews and supplies or actually bringing in diamond drills to different locations they may be exploring. Our helicopters can lift about 1,800 pounds, so we take those usually in pieces, slung to the top of a mountain.”
As with almost every business that works peripherally with the resource sector, White River Helicopters has not been immune to the challenges within the oil and gas industry, and has relied on strong client service as a port in the storm. “There has been a fair amount of focus the past three to four years on this area of B.C.,” says Estacaille. Pending and cancelled projects for oil and gas pipelines from the oil sands to the nearby ports in Kitimat and Prince Rupert have been difficult for the region. Estacaille is optimistic, and says work completed about two years ago on a hydro transmission line from Kitimat to the B.C. Golden Triangle area has allowed some of the mines to get away from using diesel power, which has the potential to increase expansion in mining in the area.
“Our area was dramatically impacted,” agrees Peltier. “As a resource-driven economy, we have seen a lot of ups and down and have suffered along with those. It required a lot of due diligence and maintaining a good perspective on the business, and anticipating where the market was going. The willingness and spirit of working with your customer one-on-one, being focused and really drilling down to give a supreme service has kept our customers coming back—because of continuity and expected level of service.”
As part of a business development strategy, in 2015 Peltier formed a partnership with the Skeena Salmon Lodge. Located approximately 23 km east of downtown Terrace, in the summer the lodge operates as Wild River Flyfishing, offering guided salmon fishing on some of the world’s best rivers and coastal inlets. And in the winter, the lodge operates as White Wilderness Heli-skiing with tenures starting in the mountains north of the lodge and running up to the southern edge of the majestic peaks of the Seven Sisters Park.
Heli-fishing is one aspect of the recreational tours White River Helicopters offers, but the sky is the limit. “We can accommodate almost any request,” says Estacaille. “While we have a strong heli-skiing clientele, we also do mountain-top picnics, and sightseeing, and even mountain-top proposals.”
White River Helicopters works tirelessly so its clients get a once-in-in-a-lifetime experience in the natural beauty of Canada’s northwest coast. The team recognizes how special it is to fly in the region—and it is something that never gets old.
“That feeling of lifting from a community and within 30 minutes being into complete wilderness where there isn’t anyone around for 100 miles is amazing,” says Peltier. “You get a real sense of adventure there’s no doubt about that. Again it’s only about a 30-40 minute flight, but people who experience that are in total awe. I always get a chuckle when I tell my business clients, this is my office. I have the best view in the world and can change the view by turning the aircraft any direction I choose.”
“When the sun is shining and the skies are clear, it is God’s country up here,” says Estacaille. “The view up here over the mountain tops is just so spectacular. I’ve been fortunate enough to be up in several kinds of helicopters and the flight never seems to last long enough.”
For more information, please visit www.whiteriverhelicopters.ca