VIH Aviation started on the Peninsula

In 1955, a company called Vancouver Island Helicopters began. Now, it’s operating around the world

VIA Aviation Group’s Mark Junker addresses Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce Tour of Industriy participants in the company’s maintenance hanger at Victoria International Airport.

The next few editions of the Peninsula News Review will highlight businesses on the recent Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce Tour of Industry. Read about what they do, their challenges and success stories.

 

With more than 400 employees and a fleet of over 40 helicopters and a couple of private jets, North Saanich based VIH Aviation Group Ltd. is operating on an international scale. So much so that one of the company’s subsidiaries has recently attracted a multi-million dollar investment.

As part of an Oct. 30 Tour of Industry put on by the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, VIH Aviation offered a tour and overview of their operation at the Victoria International Airport. It’s their head office and the community in which current owner, Ken Norie, lives and where the company started in 1955.

Vice-president of finance and corporate services Rick Senkler led the tour, outlining the company’s history on the Peninsula and the changes it has experienced over the years.

At one time, he explained, the company had more than 100 helicopters, used in a variety of jobs from tourism to heli-logging. Today, that fleet is much-reduced as VIA Aviation has found niche markets in which to excel.

“The Group is made up of different companies that have different roles and tasks,” he explained, noting the VIH Aviation Group Ltd. is the umbrella.

Beneath it are: Cougar Helicopters, VIH Helicopters, VIH Aerospace, VIH Execujet, YYJ FBO Services and VIH Cougar Helicopters. These subsidiary companies work in repair and overhaul services, fixed wing jet charters, off short oil and gas exploration, passenger transportation in a variety of roles and search and rescue operations.

On Oct. 2 it was announced that Cougar Helicopters sold a 25 per cent minority equity interest to Bristow Group Inc. for $250 million. In this deal, said Senkler, Bristow will own the assets of Cougar Helicopters, which the company will lease back. The transaction, according to a media release, will allow Cougar to benefit from Bristow’s resources and global network of customers and suppliers. Cougar employs 250 people.

Throughout their company, VIA Aviation Group works around the world. There’s a big emphasis on providing services to the oil and gas industry. Senkler  noted the loco company has a presence in places like Brazil, Angola, Louisiana, Alaska and the east coast of Canada and the U.S.

VIH also works extensively in the forest industry, mining and exploration, tourism and more.

VIH is also into search and rescue services in Canada and the U.S. They supply their own pilots and search and rescue technicians as well as engineers and support staff. They have a multimillion dollar search and rescue operation in Louisiana, working over the Gulf of Mexico. They even helped fly victims of the British Petroleum offshore oil rig explosion to medical attention.

This means the company employs highly skilled people in a variety of fields. Their payroll is estimated at well above $40 million in all of their operations. It was also noted that 23 per cent of VIH employees live in the Capital Regional District (and only 28 per cent of those live on the Saanich Peninsula).

Wanting to maintain their access to the airport presents challenges for VIH, including the need for affordable housing for their workforce. It’s an issue shared by other industry players in the area and a common theme throughout the chamber of commerce tour.

 

Tour Mini Series

In Wednesday’s News Review: Local high school students at one time, the owners of Straitline Precision are using robots and innovation to manufacture bicycle parts — and they’re growing fast.

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