On Monday, June 30, 443 Maritime Helicopter Squadron officially takes ownership of their new, $105 million hangar and administration building at the Victoria International Airport.
That, however, is only just the beginning of their relocation from their older buildings. Major Don Philip, acting deputy commanding officer and a Sea King helicopter pilot, says it will take six to eight months to move everything — and everybody — from seven buildings into just one. It must be accomplished, he said, while maintaining operational status — meaning their crews must still train and be ready for missions even while their lockers are going from one place to another.
Squadron leaders and Department of National Defense staff accompanied the Peninsula News Review on a recent tour of the 20,000 square meter facility. Major Donald Leblanc, the Squadron’s liaison with Defence Construction Canada (the main contractors overseeing companies like Knappett and Stantec), a reservist and pilot, said the main hangar — at 13,000 square meters — is larger than the ice surface at Victoria’s Save-On-Foods Centre. It can hold the unit’s current compliment of six Sea King helicopters and the nine new Sikorsky Cyclone choppers that are on order with Public Works Canada.
The new hangar and ramp area outside provide the Squadron with added capabilities, such as having their own fuel station to keep the helicopters ready to fly. It also means the crews won’t use as much tarmac space at the airport.
Construction of the building took three years and the driving in of 1,200 pilings to make it a post-disaster capable structure. Philip noted the building has its own, self-contained ‘brain’ — boilers, electrical systems and more — and is able to collect its own water waste and runoff.
Jim Antonissen with Defence Construction Canada added there are high security measures throughout the hanger, advanced fire suppression systems and security cameras all around the exterior. He said the project will be on budget.
The ground floor contains two hangars and the maintenance operations for the Squadron.
The second floor will be home to maintenance administration as well as unit operations personnel. Here is where the outside activities around the building will be monitored.
The third floor is the command centre and where the air crews will receive their daily briefings and mission orders. There’s also a doctor’s office for visits every second week, a gym for personnel to maintain fitness or rehab injuries and, of course, a mess hall for unit functions. Leblanc said the mess will be where much of the Squadron’s history will be displayed.
443 Squadron has been operating on the Island for 25 years — 2014 is their quarter-century anniversary. Philip said they employ up to 250 people right now and could grow to as many as 300 in their new facility.
When the official handover takes place on Monday, Antonissen said all parties will conduct a thorough walkthrough of the building and discuss any deficiencies discovered. Those will be corrected afterwards.
Leblanc said once the move begins, command and administration will be the first to go, ensuring services such as payroll are established quickly and at the same time, flight crews maintain a state of 24-hour readiness.
The old Squadron buildings will either be removed or, in the case of the hangar itself, be re-used by other airport tenants. An effort was made to save the Squadron’s historic administration building, but citing age and high asbestos levels, the Victoria Airport Authority (who will retain its ownership) had decided to tear it down.