Ken Norie grew up around helicopters and aviation in general and loves it even now, after spending most of his adult life working in the family business.
He is the president and CEO of VIH Aviation Group and has led the North Saanich-based company through changes in the aviation industry, branching out to ensure the long-term survival of the company.
That work earned Ken a BC Aviation Council award for his entrepreneurial spirit. He received the honour at a special Council event on Oct. 26 in Vancouver. The Aviation Council recognized him for his leadership in growing VIH and its subsidiaries. And he says he was honoured to receive the award.
The company — Vancouver Island Helicopters — began in the 1950s, founded by TendHensen and partner Bill Boeing Jr. It would eventually see the arrival of Ken’s father, Frank. The Norie family at the time were in logging, working in camps that could only be reached by water or air. His dad and his business partner bought a Republic SeaBee fixed wing aircraft in 1957 (which is now on display at the BC Aviation Museum at the Victoria International Airport) and that’s where Ken remembers getting his start.
“I rode in that when I was one year old,” he recalled.
By 1969, he said his father acquired a Bell 47 helicopter for his logging business and it was maintained by VIH. Ken flew whenever he could with his dad and learned to fly and eventually went to work for VIH in 1973 at age18 as a junior commercial pilot. In 1976 Frank acquired a minority interest and from there, the company would grow.
They were flying helicopters transporting work crews, forest fire fighting and supporting mineral exploration and other resource industries. Ken moved within the company, becoming a pilot instructor and base manager in Prince Rupert. By 1986, he was back in Victoria, having taken over as operations manager. He said there was eventually an opportunity to get into helicopter logging operations and was a proponent of adding that to the business. The company tried it, wanted out by 1990, so he went out on his own and started VIH Logging — one of many subsidiary companies to branch out from those humble beginnings.
Ken would eventually start buying shares in the company by the mid-’90s and was able to take full ownership by 2000. Since then, the company expanded, buying North Mountain Helicopters and then Cougar Helicopters on Canada’s east coast in 2003.
That company continues to serve the oil and gas industry, flying crews out to offshore oil rigs and operating a private search and rescue base.
By that time, the company owned close to 100 small and large helicopters. After 2008, the company sold most of the smaller aircraft, retaining the heavy lift helicopters.
They branched out further over the last 16 years, with VIH Aerospace (maintenance and manufacturing), YYJ FBO (Fixed Base Operation — a fuel dealership at the airport), RotorMax (a Parksville-based helicopter maintenance company) and VIH ExecuJet — providing the Island’s only exclusive private jet service with a Citation Ultra and Challenger 604 aircraft. They recently added an executive class amphibious Cessna Caravan and Bell 206 and 407 helicopters designed for charter trips and adventure tours up and down the south coast.
Today, VIH operates both domestically and around the world.
VIH is also still a family business. Ken’s daughter Jen is general manager of VIH Helicopters, his son Jeff is director of maintenance at VIH Aerospace and his brother Pete is Chief Adventure Officer (CAO) for VIH Execujet.
Ken said while the industry itself has its struggles, VIH is well diversified to weather those ups and downs.