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Expanding the flight envelope

Moving into the vacuum left by a departing carrier, Alma, Quebec-based Panorama Helicopters has created a new aviation division, Panorama Aviation. It began service this May with a Pilatus PC-12 aircraft.


September 8, 2014
By Carroll McCormick

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Moving into the vacuum left by a departing carrier, Alma, Quebec-based Panorama Helicopters has created a new aviation division, Panorama Aviation. It began service this May with a Pilatus PC-12 aircraft.

Founded in 2000,
Founded in 2000, Panorama Helicopters flies 12 turbine helicopters. For several years, the company has wanted to add fixed-wing aircraft to its charter offerings. Photo: Panorama Fixed Wings


 

Founded in 2000, Panorama Helicopters flies 12 turbine helicopters. For several years, the company had wanted to add fixed-wing aircraft to its charter offerings. Their greater passenger and cargo capacity, longer range and lower flying cost meant that they could capture more business.

“When we were flying for mining companies in 2012, we missed some business,” acknowledges Jimmy Emond, general manager of Panorama Helicopters and president of Panorama Fixed Wings. “We have several customers in our helicopter business who are using charter flights. Now, we can offer both services. Also, just for our crew changes up north, we are using our plane, saving time and money.”

As long as the existing fixed-wing carrier, Pascan Aviation, had scheduled service in Alma, Panorama could not build a business case for expanding into fixed-wing operations. “The population can’t justify two operators at this airport,” Emond said. When Pascan Aviation discontinued its service to Alma on November 7, 2013, Panorama pounced. It purchased a Pilatus PC-12/45, manufactured in 2000. The company obtained its air operator’s certificate and Canadian Transportation Agency certificate on May 15 and made its first charter flight the next day.

Emond waxes almost poetic about the choice of aircraft. “The Pilatus is a luxury aircraft. Ours is a completely overhauled aircraft with zero time on the 1,200 SHP PT6A-67B engine. It has a new interior and new paint. We added a USB port and iPad at each seat. It has a smooth ride for passengers and is quiet inside. It has a good payload and higher range. The operational cost is lower than similar aircraft and the safety records are better than all small multi-turboprop aircraft.”

The large wings and big flaps make for easy, year-round flying in and out of small northern Quebec airports. Its slow approach speed is perfect for airports typical of the region, such as Eleonore, with its 3,500-foot gravel airstrip and Poste Montagnais, which has a 3,900-foot gravel airstrip. It can also land on ice. The Pilatus has a 260-knot cruising speed, which translates into a 50-minute flight from Montreal to Alma, for example.

Panorama Fixed Wings hired three pilots: two captains and a first officer. They are all from local communities, with experience flying for other companies. This reflects the company’s position that young pilots from the region should be supported. “For me, it is very important to encourage people around here,” Emond says.

As for learning to fly the new plane, Emond says, “The Pilatus is easy to fly. When you go on the simulator in Florida, if a pilot is experienced with the King Air, they need about 20 hours of simulator time. It is easier to fly than the King Air.”

Panorama Fixed Wings is manning each flight with two pilots. “We could fly with just one pilot, but we think it’s preferable to fly with two pilots. It is safer to do that,” Emond notes. A company in Alma, Produits Aviatech, has the necessary tools and Pilatus-trained mechanics to service the Pilatus. Advanced servicing is available at Pilatus Centre Canada in Thunder Bay, Ont.

Panorama Fixed Wings
With new interior paint, a USB port and iPad at every seat, and a smooth, quiet ride, Panorama Fixed Wings has created a welcome environment. Photo: Panorama Fixed Wings


 

With five passengers booked, a flight will cost less to charter than buying seats on a commercial airline, according to Emond. He sketches the five-passenger business proposition: “On a commercial flight to Kuujjuaq, a flight from Montreal is $1,500 for one seat. Also, the scheduled flights are very busy. You have to check your flights weeks in advance. When you are chartering a flight from us, a three-hour flight is [about the same] for the plane and you can fly when you want.”

A lot of the passengers are contractors making crew changes up north. Panorama Fixed Wings serves industries that include mining, forestry, construction and hydro development. They tend to travel in bunches. “For one company, it is not rare that we are carrying more than five people,” Emond says. The trick to further reducing the per-seat cost is to find passengers from other companies heading in the same direction. The idea is for one company to charter a flight, and then help that company sell any empty seats.

Granted, Emond admits, “It is not easy to fly people from more than one company at a time, but we have developed a web platform on our website. When I have a charter with a company, using five seats, for example, I can offer them to sell the leftover seats on our website to reduce their charter cost. On our website you will be able to see where we are going and how many seats are available. It will be publically viewable. You will be able to pay for the flight through the website. Everything will be done automatically.”

Panorama Fixed Wings wants to make the Pilatus available to everyone, not just to corporate clients. “We are also offering our services to our regional population, which has been served by fixed-wing companies from other regions since 2004,” Emond says. “Our community put in money to keep them around to assure a fixed-wing service. Each time, when the subsidies were burned up, they left the airport. We decided that we can give this service and we believe strongly in the support of our regional population.”

Panorama Helicopters
Alma, Quebec-based Panorama Fixed Wings, a division of Panorama Helicopters, chose the Swiss-made Pilatus as its first fixed-wing aircraft. PHOTO: Panorama Fixed Wings



What the company does not want to do, however, is jump into scheduled service without proper justification. “As soon as we can justify a scheduled flight, we will do it,” Emond adds. “But we don’t want to make the same mistakes that other airlines made. We don’t want to make flights just for the sake of the flights.”

The Pilatus also works nicely as a cargo plane. When configured just for cargo, it can carry about 2,000 pounds and anything that will fit through its 4’6” wide by 4’6” high cargo door. “With the cargo door at the back we can slide a pallet into the aircraft. We have a quick kit we can install to protect the aircraft interior,” Emond says. As a “just-in-case,” a stretcher kit will be available so Panorama Fixed Wings can also respond to MEDIVAC emergencies.

By July, Panorama Fixed Wings was doing three or four flights a week, enough to justify making plans to bring in another Pilatus. “We are buying a second aircraft for next spring and adding three more employees,” Emond says. “There are currently eight of us working for Panorama Fixed Wings, and we believe that we will be around 20 in the next two years.”