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Multifunction Airline

With Canada’s national airlines hogging most of the media limelight, it is easy to overlook the fact that there are exceptionally busy carriers of more local renown in this country.


October 28, 2008
By Carroll McCormick

Topics

The many hats of Perimeter Aviation

 20a
 Cargo tonnage has doubled in the last three years.

With Canada’s national airlines hogging most of the media limelight, it is easy to overlook the fact that there are exceptionally busy carriers of more local renown in this country. In Manitoba, the busiest “small” carrier is Perimeter Aviation, which carried 135,000 passengers in 2007; by comparison, if perhaps not entirely fairly, 79,000 passengers traveled through the Kingston/Norman Rogers Airport last year.

Perimeter has daily scheduled service to 23 destinations, all north of its home base in Winnipeg: It offers 22 scheduled flights per day out of Winnipeg and 12 scheduled daily flights out of Thompson. This kind of buzz highlights the importance of aviation to Canada’s northern inhabitants – something they need no reminding of, but a fact us “southerners” easily forget.

Add to that 100 charter flights a month, plus 170 medevac flights a month to destination hospitals in Thompson and Winnipeg, and one begins to appreciate the importance of this company to the people of Manitoba.

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Perimeter, which is headquartered at the Winnipeg James Armstrong Richardson International Airport, began offering scheduled commuter service in 1976, 16 years after it began as a flight school, then took on some bank bag runs and began to grow its operations. In 2004 Perimeter joined the big leagues, so to speak, when the Exchange Industrial Income Fund, a Canadian business trust headquartered in Winnipeg and trading on the TSX  purchased it; the trust also includes Manitoba-based Keewatin Air and four manufacturing companies.

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 A medevac flight over Whale Cove, Nunavut.

Perimeter’s Winnipeg facility includes a passenger and check-in area which, having been upgraded and doubled in size, reopened its doors this September; maintenance hangars; a new 1,142-square-metre cargo facility with two coolers and four freezers; a flight operations office building, added in 2006; and a warehouse, all of which open up onto 7,430 square metres of apron space. Since 2004, the Fund has
invested more than $25 million in Perimeter Aviation equipment and infrastructure.

Perimeter also maintains a large base in Thompson with a maintenance hangar, cargo hangar and crew residence large enough for 11 staff. Each of its four medevac bases, located in Thompson, Cross Lake, Gods Lake Narrows and Island Lake, has its own dedicated medevac-equipped aircraft, flight crew and flight nurse.

The company also maintains large stockpiles of fuel in northern Manitoba – about 3.2 million litres in all.

Perimeter Aviation’s main divisions are: Scheduled Air Services, Charter Services, Medevac Services, Flight Training, Cargo and an Approved Maintenance Organization (AMO). As of this September there were 525 employees, distributed between Winnipeg and its other stations.

Its largest aircraft are two 37-passenger Dash 8-100s, which Perimeter purchased in 2006. Two Beech 99s, added to the fleet in 2005, serve communities with shorter runways. The rest of the 31-aircraft fleet include three Beechcraft 95 Travel-Airs and two Beechcraft 55 Barons for training and courier runs, two Merlins for cargo and charters, 16 Fairchild Metro IIs and four Metro IIIs for scheduled air service. Within the next few years Perimeter will be acquiring more Metro IIIs, which will increase the capacity for all of Perimeter’s destinations.

In addition to scheduled passenger service, Perimeter operates a cargo operation that has doubled in the past three years to over five millions pounds of cargo a year. The airline delivers to 23 northern Manitoba destinations and participates in the “Food Mail” program, which is funded by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) and administered by Canada Post. The Food Mail program provides nutritious perishable food products and other essential items to isolated northern communities at reduced postal rates, according to INAC, and at a more than 50-per-cent reduction in cost, says Dave Dunlop, chief pilot, flight operations.

Dunlop, who has been with Perimeter for nine years, is responsible for pilot training programs in the aircraft and simulator, standard operating procedures development and maintenance, Transport Canada check rides and pilot supervision.

“On the east side of Lake Winnipeg all-season roads do not go very far north. Most of the communities we service only have ice roads, which are normally only open for a few months of the year. This means that all of our services, including medevacs and cargo, are crucial for most of the year,” Dunlop says.

On the charter side, Perimeter makes available any of its aircraft for flights anywhere in North America. “A lot of our charter customers are fishermen from the U.S. going to the northern lodges. There are also lots of mining and exploration companies requiring charter services. Several businesses in town also use our charter aircraft for business trips. This type of service is very efficient and convenient for our business customers,” Dunlop says.

Aircraft medevac services are as integral a part of modern life in the North as are ambulances in areas with adequate road infrastructure. Perimeter, a medevac service provider since 2002, conducts over 2,000 medevac flights a year as a licensed air ambulance provider with the Manitoba Health Emergency Services Branch. Perimeter uses pressurized Metro II aircraft with upwards of a 1,200-nautical-mile range, and outfitted with a wide variety of equipment ranging from oxygen tanks, cardiac units and electric winch stretchers, to extra-large rear cargo doors for wheelchairs and larger clients.

“The provincial government is responsible for our licensing for medevacs,” Dunlop says. “They require yearly aircraft inspections and individual licensing of all pilots, nurses and paramedics. The federal government is responsible for the health care of all first nations people living on reserves, which  constitutes about 75 per cent of our medevac business, which is paid for by the federal government. For those non-treaty residents living north of the 53rd parallel, the provincial government maintains the financial responsibility.”

 All of the 703/704 aircraft are outfitted with certified GPS installations approved for GPS approaches. All medevac aircraft are equipped with integrated hazard avoidance systems (IHAS). “IHAS is a flight display unit that integrates Traffic Avoidance, GPS, Ground Proximity Warning System and Weather Radar in one display,” Dunlop notes.

Perimeter has never lost touch with flight training, the roots of its business: Its flight training academy, with a staff of five instructors, a flight school coordinator, chief flying instructor and an assistant chief flying instructor, accounts for about 100 training flights per month. Airline pilot training is done by a separate department and accounts for 30 training flights per month.

Jeppeson FS200 and PFC Elite simulators, which simulate a Beechcraft Baron, are used to introduce instrument flight rule (IFR) skills to pilots-in-training and allow new students to hone their skills before climbing into an actual aircraft. Perimeter consistently trains about 150 multi-IFR pilots a year (some are international students, but most are Canadian) but with the acquisition and Transport Canada certification of a Metro simulator earlier in the year, built by flight simulator designer and manufacturer Mechtronix Systems Inc. in Montreal, Perimeter expects to increase quality of training for its pilots at a reduced cost.

Dunlop shares the excitement of having this new machine at his disposal. “Our new Metro simulator was built inside of an actual retired Metro III cockpit. It is a convertible Level III flight training device (FTD) for the Metro II and Metro III, both of which it simulates in terms of systems and flight models.
“The realism it offers is spectacular: over 95 per cent of the systems and switches are operational, it uses 11 computers, five high-definition projectors deliver graphics to a 220×60-degree screen and it has pneumatic controls and real recorded sounds. It provides us with the opportunity to train well above and beyond the Transport Canada requirements.  We use it primarily in-house to train our own pilots, but we are planning to roll out a multi-turbine training course and IFR renewal course for student pilots in the near future.”

Perimeter’s AMO comprises several specialized shops, including an avionics shop, engineering and design department, non-destructive testing shop, electrical component shop, structures shop, component overhaul shop and a large turbine shop. The department also includes line maintenance services, longer term or heavy maintenance services and repair capabilities on many different aircraft types.

“We are definitely unique, as nearly all of our aircraft maintenance is done in-house. Not many other operators can say that,” says Dunlop. “Our company has an incredible team of maintenance engineers that keep our aircraft in top shape. Keeping aircraft away from the main base requires pro-active maintenance and having the capability to repair problems in a timely manner improves service to our customers.”

The design department, which opened in 2001, is responsible for most of the modification and repair data packages on Perimeter’s planes. It also provides design services for other aviation companies and aircraft owners.

The department has a design approval representative (DAR), who is an expert appointed by Transport Canada to expedite approval of data packages, which define any changes made to aircraft; since 2001 the department has carried out over 500 modifications and repairs on its own aircraft and for clients as far away as Montreal, Vancouver and Texas. They include bulk fuel tankers, geo-survey equipment installations, engine upgrades and GPS asset tracking installations.

Perimeter is particularly adept at improving its own Metros. Dunlop mentions a couple of examples: “A few years back we converted our Metro II fleet to four-bladed propellers. This has reduced the noise in the cabin for our customers and reduced the wear and tear on our propellers. We also recently developed an internal fuel tank system for hauling fuel in our long-body cargo-configured Merlin which is capable of hauling 1,600 litres of fuel.

To date the design department has mostly specialized in smaller aircraft – under 12,500 pounds. However, Transport Canada recently granted Perimeter’s DAR delegation for heavy-aircraft approvals, which permits the design team to approve modifications on nearly any type of aircraft.

To facilitate the ongoing training of its employees, Perimeter offers a wide assortment of online training, says Dunlop. “We have about 95 per cent of our company training online. Employees log in to our training site and complete their training videos, presentations and exams. It is all automated and can be done from the comfort of the employees’ homes.”

In addition to its day-to-day objective of operating a safe service for its customers, Dunlop says that Perimeter has its eye on growth opportunities. “I hope that we will continue to expand our services and grow with the northern communities. As a flight department leader I would like to see us expand our simulator fleet and pioneer the use of these FTDs at the air taxi and commuter level.”