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Expansion of Geotech Aviation is for the 'birds': new helicopter, hangar on the way for Sudbury business.

Since its inception in the 1980s, Geotech Ltd., based out of Aurora, has been one of the leaders in providing airborne geophysical surveys in global mineral exploration. Now its offshoot company, Geotech Aviation, is poised to introduce full aviation services to the industry.


Following the success of its parent company, Geotech Aviation was formed in 2009 and operates out of the Greater Sudbury Airport.

It seemed the ideal place to set up shop: Geotech Ltd. founder Ed Morrison could return to his roots by expanding into his hometown, and the company would be strategically positioned to serve the mining sector, explained Don Morrison, the assistant to the president, who also happens to be his brother.

"Sudbury is considered a mining giant in the Canadian mining world, and so we're in an ideal area in the country where we can fly helicopters either way to serve people: not only on the West Coast, but on the East Coast also," he said. "So, right across the country we've got a large-sized service base that can accomplish this in minimum time."

As a full-service aviation company, clients can also use the company's services in fighting forest fires, shuttling geologists between exploration sites, or relocating equipment between mines. Additionally, Geotech's technology is starting to be applied by oil and gas companies looking for new deposits, and has even been used to search for potable water.

"We've been hired by the World Bank to find water deposits for third-world countries," Morrison said.

Over the last year and a half, the Geotech Aviation staff has grown from three to 35, and there are now 16 helicopters and planes in its fleet. The company is looking to add six pilots and six aircraft mechanics to its staff to keep up with demand.

Its new, 20,000-square-foot hangar, located at the Greater Sudbury Airport, will be complete this summer, and additional growth is anticipated within the next two years.

Capping off the current expansion is the arrival of a new helicopter this summer, with four more being added to the fleet over the next three years.

The Augusta AW119Ke is a more powerful and versatile aircraft than the helicopters used by the company now, and will allow Geotech to conduct surveys at high elevations and in rough terrain. More power is needed to pull the "birds"--instruments towed underneath the aircraft--since their weight often creates drag.

Morrison said two of the Augustas will be sent to Iran after the company signed an agreement to conduct oil-exploration activities in that country.

Geotech was only marginally impacted by the 2009 recession, and was able to recover quickly after a brief blip in performance.

"When the economy took a dip we were down less than normal for a few weeks, but it bounced right back for us and we've been going strong ever since," Morrison said. "Everybody's working and all our equipment's out, so that's about the best you can ask for when you're in this business."

Mineral exploration in particular has been the most lucrative aspect of the business, and "that's keeping us at almost more than we can handle," Morrison said. "We're very, very busy."

Airborne geophysical surveying is much like a treasure hunter scanning the beach with a metal detector, but on a grander scale.

The company uses a proprietary large dipole-moment, versatile time-domain electromagnetics system (VTEM) to gather data showing anomalies in the earth which may indicate mineral deposits. The system, which resembles a giant spiderweb, is hooked by an 180-foot cable to the bottom of a helicopter and trailed below the aircraft when in flight.

After several passes over the survey area--which is akin to passing a lawnmower several times over a lawn--the resulting data is collected into a report which the companies can then use to determine where to drill.

With its advances in technology and the success from its surveys, Geotech has been able to take a large chunk of the market over the last five years.

The secret to its success, Morrison said, is that the company engages its own research and development team to explore new and innovative technologies, which keeps it competitive.

"A lot of other companies, they buy equipment off the shelf and they try to build an instrument to compete with ours, but I don't think that they've been able to accomplish this yet," he said. "So we're still leading the pack."


Northern Ontario Business
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Title Annotation:MINING
Author:Kelly, Lindsay
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:Jun 1, 2011
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