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Native community development viewed as positive for business.

Awood Air's Thunder Bay operations have a promising future despite rising fuel prices and the general economic slump, according to operations manager Robin B. Lacey.

Lacey predicts that the air charter service will benefit from the province's desire to help Northern Ontario's remote Native populations become more self-sufficient.

For example, the demand for water and sewer facilities in Native reserves will generate new business for Awood Air.

Lacey reports that the provincial Ministry of Transportation intends to build more airstrips and, consequently, it will require the services of charter aircraft which are capable of handling gravel runways.

"Once the recession ends, I expect to see tourism steadily increase as well," Lacey predicts.

Awood Air's four Thunder Bay-based airplanes average 100 hours of flight per month each. The company employs 16 full- and nine part-time staff with a monthly payroll of $70,000.

Almost 80 per cent of Awood Air's business is supplied by federal and provincial government agencies. The company's eight pilots log more than 30,000 miles every month.

"We frequently have some interesting work such as moving the Tom Jones Racing Team to race tracks," says Lacey, who learned to fly in Red Deer, Alta. while employed on oil rigs. "On all trips our pilots do far more than fly. They're taxi drivers, guides and entertainers who do everything they can for the customer."

However, Lacey admits that if it were not for government contracts Awood Air might not have survived the fuel price increases which resulted from the Gulf War.

"Every month when I see the payables come across my desk, I'm always shocked," he says.

While he credits his competition, Bearskin Air, for keeping Awood Air "on its toes," Lacey says Awood has the edge when it comes to charters because it concentrates solely on that business.

Awood Air flies three Beechcraft King Air aircraft and one Piper Navajo Chieftain.

The piston-engine Piper Navajo is suited to light charters and occasional aerial fire detection patrols. However, most customers prefer the 416-km/h King Air because it is pressurized to fly above poor weather.

"The King Air is probably the most reliable turbine twin-engine airplane available in the eight-to-10 seat range," says Lacey. "The determining factor in our minds is the predictable running costs of the Canadian-built Pratt & Whitney power-plants."

The origins of Awood Air date back to 1984 when company owners Alexander and Stuart Wood of Victoria, B.C. established a Thunder Bay aerial fire-fighting base under the name Flying Fireman Ltd. The company flew large Canso water bombers under contract with the Ontario government.

When the provinces phased out the ex-Second World War planes in favor of the more modern Canadair CL-215s, the Woods entered the air charter business.

"We received an operating certificate in early February 1984 and flew about 100 hours almost immediately after getting our first airplane," Lacey recalls. "Before long, it seemed to be the general consensus that there was a need for a Piper Navajo or Cessna 402 style aircraft (six- to 10-seat twin-engine)."
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Title Annotation:Transportation Report; air charter services
Author:Sinclair, L.I.
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:Dec 1, 1991
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