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Whose Heliport is it? by Simonds Lee

Article Author Biography
Whose Heliport is it? by
Article Posted: 02/14/2018
Article Views: 213
Articles Written: 598
Word Count: 2671
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Whose Heliport is it?

Business,Travel & Tourism
The history of the Whistler Heliport and the society running it is a story of unethical behavior of mammoth proportions. Spearhead Aviation Ltd. (formerly Whistler Air) built a hangar and installed a fuel facility several years ago at the municipal heliport. The saga I had to go through to get a place up there is chronicled below. The current owners of Spearhead Aviation are now forced into going to court to continue being able to operate in Whistler. Spearhead Aviation under the new owners will be able to offer the community competitive helicopter services. Furthermore there will be more aircraft options to choose from and more aircraft available when needed. It will be a positive benefit to all helicopters users in the Sea to Sky area. But that is what the Whistler Heliport Society (WHS) does not want. They want to eliminate any competition to Blackcomb Helicopters using every means possible. Don’t believe me… here are the facts.

• When I contacted the WHS in 2013 to secure a spot at the heliport I was told none were available. I had to publicly embarrass them before I was able to secure a place.

• Immediately after purchase agreement was made to transfer Spearhead Aviation to the new owners last year, the WHS gave a 24 hours notice of lease cancellation to Spearhead Aviation.

• For over 9 months the new owners attempted to communicate with the WHS to establish a working relationship. The only response was basically to say get lost.

• The AGM for the WHS was held in December of 2017. We were told that we would be able to attend. A few days before the AGM was to take place, an email informed us that we would not be allowed to attend. Here is why they didn’t want us there: According to the bylaws of the WHS membership is available to people like the new owners of Spearhead. At the AGM they went and changed the bylaws to exclude operators other than from BC (even though the heliport was built with federal money). They did this precisely to keep the new owners out. Furthermore they changed the bylaws to allow leases to non helicopter operators that the WHS “approves of”. Let me expand on this particular piece of hypocrisy. Notwithstanding the fact that the heliport was built expressly for “helicopter operators”, companies like Whistler Heliskiing have been enjoying basically free rent ($500. per month) for their operations courtesy of you, the taxpayers who paid for the heliport. This is something I complained loudly about way back when I was told there was no space available back in 2013. As it turns out I was right in my argument… it really was against the bylaws for Whistler Heliskiing to be there. So they had to fix that! The fact is that now, most of the heliport space is taken up by the customers of Blackcomb Helicopters. And they are going to say with a straight face in court that there just is no room for any other actual helicopter companies?? Oh ya and at the AGM John Morris (the General Manager of Blackcomb Helicopters) stepped down as president of the WHS, the conflict of interest being way too glaring.

This is going to court and quite possibly your tax dollars will be used against us in this battle. If you feel that this is just plain wrong I urge you to call your favorite counselor at the RMOW and say so. January 5th, 2018

I have been asked to provide a summary and update of the ongoing heliport issue. Blackcomb Helicopters has taken over the municipal heliport for their own use. This facility was built in the early 90’s with three million dollars of federal and provincial money. Originally constructed for providing lease areas for up to five operations, Blackcomb Helicopters is currently the only helicopter operator at the heliport. They do not want any other operators there and to that end over the past several years have used their control of the society that manages the heliport to restrict access to any other competition. This is seemingly with full countenance of the RMOW. Spearhead Aviation (formerly Whistler Air) is challenging their usurpation and monopoly of the heliport. The society today gave us notice that we are trespassing by moving back into a hangar I built four years ago. This issue will be going to court. There is a pretty good chance the RMOW will have to pony up money for lawyers and possibly for damages as they are the ones who are supposed to be in charge of this ridiculous situation. If you don’t want to see your tax dollars wasted on this I urge you to ask questions of your Mayor and council.

December 28th, 2017

I have decided to post the following to this form as this is an issue that needs to see the light of day. There are some unsavoury goings on in the Resort Municipality of Whistler that need to be made public. The issue involves the usurption of a public amenity by a large corporate entity, the aquiessence of the society directors that oversee the amenity to go along with the mismanagement and the willingness of the Resort Municipality of Whistler to turn a blind eye to the issues taking place.

At this point you are probably thinking that this is just going to be an rant by some disgruntled and disillusioned person, I know I would, but read on, it won’t be a waste of time.

As one of the persons affected by the actions and with a long association in the valley my intent with this report is to try and bring to light the history and story for the public and journalists (and politicians) we hope to engage in our effort to right a very obvious and grievous wrong. And for the record, I have been trying for over 5 months to get the local media to report on this. Initially they were very interested in the story and although they still profess to want to write it, it has been almost half a year!

My name is Mike Quinn and for 27 years from 1986 – 2013 I owned and operated Whistler Air a floatplane company based on Green Lake in Whistler that provided tourist services, general charter services and scheduled services. In 2013 I sold the company (or rather the assets… an asset sale) to Harbour Air a major Vancouver floatplane company. Initially my plan was to retire from work and go play but my girlfriend still had kids in high school and despite my pleas it was clear sailing off into the sunset wasn’t going to happen anytime soon. So I decided to reactivate Whistler Air (name had to be changed to Spearhead Aviation) and do the only thing my non competition clause allowed, rotary wing operations. (Whistler Air operated helicopters from 1991 – 1997) my plan now being to sell the company as a share sale when my girlfriend was ready to go sailing.

Now the history part…

Back in the mid eighties when Whistler was just taking off as a destination winter resort there were several helicopter landing zones in the Whistler area. This isn’t surprising as the many different operators sought out their own place to exist which at the time were easy to find. However as the winter heliskiing business grew and the larger and noisier machines arrived the town folk started to complain as most of the landing areas were next to residential areas. Eventually the decision was made to consolidate everyone to one out of town location. An area was identified and being crown land the municipality applied to the province for a lease. The Whistler Heliport Society (WHS) was created to in turn lease the property from the municipality and manage the operation. The board of directors of the newly created WHS was made up of people from the various companies that had an interest in using the facility.

Grants were obtained from both the federal and provincial governments to the tune of $3,000,000.00 and a professional airport design firm (Accuratus Engineering) hired to do the layout of the new heliport. The original plan had 5 plots for 5 different companies because at the time there were 5 helicopter operations taking place. I know all this because Whistler Air was the first company to set up shop there. At the time we had a Bell 47 helicopter in addition to our floatplane operation on Green Lake. In 1997 I decided to suspend the rotary wing operations of Whistler Air and concentrate on our mushrooming floatplane operations. Consequently I had to give up our spot at the heliport. After I sold the assets of Whistler Air in 2013 and changed the name of the company to Spearhead Aviation and subsequently decided to reactivate our rotary wing operation I contacted the WHS to secure a spot back at the heliport.

By that time the heliport and the society managing it had gone through some major changes. Gone were the 5 different companies that originally started operations there either through attrition or sale. In fact only one actual helicopter company remained active at the facility, Blackcomb Aviation. Although some of directors on the board from out of town were still involved, the major player on the scene, Blackcomb Aviation, was a new company from Vancouver whose majority owners are the Mclean Group, a family run operation with tentacles in several ventures including the film industry. John Morris who is also an owner of Blackcomb Aviation, the company in question, had become the president of the WHS.

Mr. Morris was very unfriendly when I called him to inquire about getting re established at the heliport. He told me that there were no places left for new operators. I pointed out that he was the only operator there and that the place was designed for 5 operators so his comments were absurd. At that point he refused to talk with me anymore.

So I went public. I wrote a letter to the Pique Newsmagazine describing the ridiculousness of the situation. The publicity had the desired effect because shortly thereafter the municipality intervened and I was told they would let me lease a “6th” spot an area that had been created for the military for the 2010 Olympics. So in 2013 I built a hangar and commenced operations with a Bell 206 jetranger.

Now you have to appreciate how big the heliport is and how much of it is unused to see how ridiculous it is to claim there is no room for anyone else. The fact that I was regulated to a tiny area off to a side should have been enough for me to complain loudly. However as I was in for a short haul I didn’t, even though I knew Blackcomb Aviation was effectively running the WHS for their own benifit and fundamental changes needed to happen to make it more accountable. As I started to become established it became apparent that Blackcomb Aviation would not tolerate me stealing any of their customers. On one memorable occasion a staff member of Blackcomb Aviation (not the chief pilot) accosted the owner of an outdoor adventure company that was with me after we had just landed. The outdoor adventure company uses helicopters often and did a lot of business with Blackcomb Aviation. An employee of Blackcomb Aviation confronted him and said that if he ever flew with me again he would never be able to use Blackcomb Aviation. It became almost physical. I am recounting these incidents because it is necessary to understand the mentality that has and is going on with this situation.

In 2015 I sold Spearhead Aviation to an American who had an interest in aviation and wanted to buy an investment to facilitate immigrating to Canada. The timing was right, my girlfriend and I had just purchased a boat in France and started to plan to sail across the Atlantic. For 2016 and 17 the “Sea to Sky” became our home and took us on many adventures. After the crossing we parked the boat in Florida for the summer hurricane season and came back to BC. While I was away I had received word that a fellow from Quebec, Denis Vincent, was interested in buying Spearhead Aviation from Will Graven, the american I had sold to. As it turned out Mr. Graven for a variety of personal issues was unable to put any effort into making Spearhead Aviation a going concern and Mr. Vincent who is an established helicopter operator wanting to set up in Whistler wanting to buy Mr. Graven out contacted me for assistance in the transaction.

Again I am recounting these facts as I believe it important to understand the complete story to make sense of it all. Mr. Vincent owns several helicopters which he leases out to other operators and a few which he operates himself under a Transport Canada certificate based in Quebec. It is important to note that an operating certificate from Transport Canada is valid anywhere in Canada.

Mr. Vincent is not new to the helicopter scene in BC. He has in the past attempted to make contact with the WHS to establish a relationship and secure a location. He has met with the same resistance that I encountered only more so. In fact Mr. Morris refused to take his calls or respond to any of his emails. You would think as the president of the WHS he would have an obligation to deal with other interested parties. But is clear to everyone that by now he was running the WHS purely in the interests of Blackcomb Aviation.

I met Mr. Vincent when I got back from Florida in May of 2017. I agreed to help him in the purchase of Spearhead Aviation from Will Graven and to assist in dealing with the WHS because I couldn’t stand to see them take over the heliport for their own use. It was built with public money for the community not for them!

When Mr. Morris got wind that Mr. Vincent was in the process of acquiring Spearhead Aviation he sent Mr. Graven a letter cancelling his lease with the WHS on the most spurious of grounds. He claimed that Mr. Graven had not paid his rent and then two days after he cancelled the lease he cashed the rent cheque that had been sent several months earlier. I know this hard to believe but that is what happened. Furthermore they claimed that the WHS would claim all the infrastructure on the heliport that was not removed within one month. That included a hangar and fuel facility that I had built on my location. Mr. Graven has not been able to respond to these atrocities because he no longer resides here and has issues in the US that have prevented him from properly paying attention to the situation. By this time I was furiously writing letters to the mayor and council of Whistler and to the local news media. Guess what… nothing happened.

A lot of time was wasted in pointless meetings and long drawn out dialogue but at the end of the day… ya nada. I get it. yes Blackcomb aviation is the darling of the town because they are always the ones on the news rescuing some poor soul somewhere.

So what!! that doesn’t give them licence to act like they own the heliport. The RMOW and the media need to figure that out.

A few weeks ago Mr. Vincent acquired Spearhead Aviation from Mr. Graven even though technically it no longer has any assets or a lease with the WHS. Mr. Vincent has accepted my offer to become a shareholder in Spearhead Aviation and together we will fight this battle. We moved a helicopter onto our old leased location on boxing day. We fully expect a confrontation soon. This isn’t over.

Related Articles - Whistler municipal heliport, Spearhead Aviation, Mr. Morris, Blackcomb Helicopters, AGM John Morris,

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