Coulson Aviation rolls out the Coulson-Unical CU-47, an aerial firefighting conversion similar to Boeing’s CH-47 Chinook, in early March at the Alberni Valley Regional Airport. (PHOTO COURTESY COULSON AVIATION)

PROGRESS 2020: Coulson Aviation keeps growing

Port Alberni is the hub of administration for the global aviation company

Browse any of Coulson Aviation’s web pages or social media sites lately and you’ll see a number of jobs available, from Port Alberni right to Australia.

“In the last year we’ve been growing very rapidly,” said Britt Coulson, president and COO of Coulson Aviation. “We’ve been hiring a significant number of people.”

The Port Alberni-based company has been hiring and training locally as much as possible, and Coulson points out there are still a number of job listings for Port Alberni that have yet to be filled. They look for people with specific skill sets and teach the aviation side of the job as they go, he explained.

The company continues to operate on multiple levels, despite the coronavirus affecting the global economy.

Dealing with COVID-19 measures has been tough, said Coulson. “Firefighting is classified as an essential service so we have been able to continue operations. There’s no chance there isn’t going to be a fire season. Everyone who could come to work has come to work.”

Those employees who weren’t able to work in any of the company’s three main bases were supported at home, he added. Coulson operates from Port Alberni, in Australia and in the United States.

“It was a very scary time,” he said. “We put every precaution in place that we could.” That meant increased cleaning staff, split shifts to lessen the number of people in at any one time, and even physically moving desks around. “Now our biggest challenge is moving people around. Travel is still down 90 percent so there are a lot fewer flights…we have to crew change people every two weeks.”

Different countries have different COVID-19 protocols in place too, Coulson Aviation general manager Matt Ralph said. Australia, for example, has a mandatory 14-day quarantine, paperwork varies from country to country and so do cleaning protocols.

Moving commercial freight has been challenging as well, since cargo flights have also been cut in half. Meantime, prices are going up.

“It all adds time and cost,” Coulson said.

Port Alberni is the hub for Coulson Aviation, with the conversion programs taking place at the hangar at Alberni Valley Regional Airport and administration at the Coulson headquarters in the Chances RimRock building.

Expansion in Port Alberni

Coulson cleared land a year and a half ago near their hangar and are hoping to expand. “We’re looking at putting up a large manufacturing facility to support our USAF contract. We’re looking at putting that up in the next few months.”

The Coulsons purchased five C-130 from Norway that are due for expansion. One has been sent to a facility in Florida to start because the Port Alberni facility is too busy, Coulson said.

If all goes well, Coulson estimates they will grow 30 to 40 percent over the next couple of years. That would translate into more jobs for Port Alberni.

Coulson heads to Indonesia

In early May, Coulson Aviation was awarded a 150-day contract with the Indonesian National Board for Disaster Management (BNPB) for the 2020 fire season. This is Coulson’s first aerial firefighting contract in Asia Pacific.

One of Coulson’s S-61 helicopters departed from their hangar in Bankstown, New South Wales, Australia, to support Indonesia.

“We are really excited to be expanding into the Asia Pacific markets with our fleet,” said Foster Coulson, co-president of Coulson Group. “This market has been a longtime focus for our company and we are committed to growing our presence in Indonesia and the surrounding countries in the years to come.”

Coulson Aviation was first introduced to the BNPB in 2015, when one of its next-generation large airtankers (Tanker 132) was used for firefighting. “Having one of our C-130s fight fire in Borneo and Sumatra afforded us a great opportunity to get to meet BNPB,” Britt Coulson said.

Chinooks earn first contract

The Coulson-Unical CU-47 Chinook next-generation heli-tanker that was converted at the Alberni Valley Regional Airport in early March will start work on its first contract on June 15. One of them will be based in Laramie, Wyoming and another south of Lake Tahoe on the California side. A third is operating in San Bernardino, Calif.

The twin-rotor helicopter is a preferred aerial firefighting rotary machine because of its speed, size and payload.

Martin Mars waterbombers update

While Coulson Aviation concentrates on its land-based rotary and fixed wing air force, the Martin Mars waterbombers remain landlocked at Coulson’s tanker base at Sproat Lake west of Port Alberni. Coulson said interest in the waterbombers remains high, even though they have not been in the water for almost four years.

“We’re being very selective where the Philippine Mars is going to go,” he said. “We want to ensure the history is preserved.”

The Philippine Mars has been repainted in its original US Navy colours; a deal had been tentatively struck in 2016 to send the aircraft to a Florida naval museum, but it fell through.

Wayne Coulson still has plans to bring the Hawaii Mars back to flying condition and offer flight tours, Britt Coulson said. The company wants to redesign the interior so it will include some seating, and has a crew of 14 working on conversion plans.

“They’re likely never going to continue as an air tanker again, but there is another life for them.”



susie.quinn@albernivalleynews.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

AirportAlberni-Clayoquot Regional DistrictCoulson Aviation

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Victoria cannabis compassion club raided for a second time

The Cannabis Buyers Club has been operating on Johnson Street since 2001

Driver slapped with $483 ticket for excessive speeding in Saanich construction zone

Police traffic unit reminds drivers to slow down in McKenzie interchange

Victoria International Airport deemed the most efficient for its size

Ranking appears in a report comparing airports across three international areas

Saanich makes ALC appeal for Prospect Lake Elementary parking, portables

Council votes in favour of seeking non-farm use designation

Victoria police investigating chop-shop found in Beacon Hill Park

Police asking public to register bikes with them in case lost or stolen

Recent surge in COVID-19 cases not unexpected amid Phase Three of reopening: B.C.’s top doc

Keep circles small, wear masks and be aware of symptoms, Dr. Bonnie Henry says

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of July 13

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

COVID-19 gives B.C. First Nation rare chance to examine tourism’s impact on grizzly bears

With 40 infrared cameras deployed in Kitasoo-Xai’Xais territory, research will help develop tourism plan with least impact on bears

NDP wants Lower Mainland MLA removed from BC Liberal caucus for alleged homophobia

BC Liberal leader, some MLAs apologize for Christian magazine ads but Laurie Throness doubles down

B.C. health officials pleased with likely extension of Canada-U.S. border closure

Health Minister Adrian Dix says the situation is ‘very serious in the United States’

Children suffer swollen eyes, burns while playing at Lower Mainland spray park

Mission RCMP are investigating incident that injured several children

B.C. NDP changing WorkSafeBC regulations to respond to COVID-19

Employers say reclassifying coronavirus could be ‘ruinous’

Statistical flaws led to B.C. wolf cull which didn’t save endangered caribou as estimated

Study finds statistical flaws in an influential 2019 report supporting a wolf cull

Beloved Island woman dies at 106

Dorothy Adair adored by the many people she met in Chemainus in two short years

Most Read