FLIGHT DEPT PROFILE
McLean Group's Blackcomb Av serves real estate, movie and TV activities
5 bizjets and 17 helos based across western Canada fly studio mgrs to locations, skiers to slopes.
By Grant McLaren
(L–R) Chairman/Secretary Jason McLean, Honorary Chairman David McLean, CEO Sacha McLean and Pres John Morris with Cessna Citation Mustang, Eurocopter AS350 and Vancouver Film Studio equipment at YVR.
Vancouver-based McLean Group has believed in, and benefited from, corporate aviation for years. Business aviation has long been an essential tool in extending its real estate business throughout western Canada, the US and Hawaii and managing Vancouver Film Studios (VFS)—one of North America's largest film and TV studios complete with dedicated onsite heliport.
Beginning in 2006, in partnership with Blackcomb Aviation Pres & Co-Founder John Morris, the McLean Group has magnified its bizav presence in western Canada with a growing business in fixed and rotary-wing charter and aircraft management. Today, YVR (Vancouver BC, Canada)-based Blackcomb Aviation's fleet encompasses a Cessna Citation Sovereign, a Citation Encore, 2 Citation Bravos and a Citation Mustang.
A 17-ship strong rotary fleet consists of 4 Eurocopter AS350 AStars, 4 AS355 TwinStars, 2 EC120s, 3 Bell 407s, 3 JetRangers and a Bell 205. On order is a Citation CJ4, as well as a Bombardier Challenger 300 and AgustaWestland AW109 for managed clients.
In addition to supporting VFS operations and assorted McLean Group activities, Blackcomb Aviation fills a unique niche in the growing local charter and managed aircraft scene.
"Over the years corporate aircraft have helped us put deals together and manage opportunities better," says Blackcomb Aviation Honorary Chairman David McLean.
"In the charter market we've specialized mostly in light jets and shorter haul missions," he notes, "although we've now developed a good market with efficient transcontinental-range equipment.
We like to fill a niche in both smaller fuel-efficient aircraft and long-range-capable midsize jets. The Mustang brings in customers who may have never used corporate aviation before while our longer-range Citations and the Sovereign allow us to appeal to a growing and broad-based market in western Canada."
VP Steve Wright heads Blackcomb's dispatch department. He reports strong charter demand for the company's new Mustang.
Blackcomb's 3 primary operating bases—YVR, YPS (Pemberton BC, Canada) and YWS (Whistler BC, Canada)—and 4 sub bases—YHS (Sechelt BC, Canada), YSE (Squamish BC, Canada), YVE (Vernon BC, Canada) and YYJ (Victoria BC, Canada)—employ 20 full-time pilots, 17 mechanics and 3 schedulers with typical annual utilization running 350–400 hrs on fixed-wing aircraft and minimum 500 hrs targeted on rotary equipment. Missions range from shorter entry-level charter segments aboard the Mustang to European and Hawaiian missions with the Sovereign.
"The Mustang is ideal for 1–3 passengers flying up to 800 nm, while the Bravos and Excel are perfect for commutes to southern California and Arizona," says Morris. "We've had the Sovereign to Hawaii many times since acquiring it in 2006, and it's a good option to Europe with 1 stop going over and 2 coming back. Not long ago we had a quick 3-day 22-flight-hour charter from YVR to MUC (Munich, Germany), with a crew change at YZF (Yellowknife NWT, Canada) for a client who wanted to attend the Oktoberfest."
Building a business
YVR Base Mgr/Pilot Graeme Milne (L) and Pres John Morris with Eurocopter AS350.
Blackcomb Aviation is the result of a 2006 amalgamation of 3 businesses—Blackcomb Helicopters, Omega Aviation and Gold Wing Helicopters. Morris left the corporate pilot world in 1995 to form Omega Aviation, initially with a Bell 206 and a 407 and later adding fixed-wing equipment.
Meanwhile, in 1996, David and Sacha McLean came up with the idea for VFS and began constructing sound stages in 1999. "I met Sacha in 2000 when he was running VFS and was interested in acquiring a twin helicopter to support the film studio," recalls Morris.
"The McLean Group bought a TwinStar and I ran it in my fleet. In 2006 we put together Blackcomb Aviation and we've been building the fleet ever since."
The McLean Group owns 1 Citation Bravo and the Mustang while the other fixed-wing aircraft are owned by managed customers. "Our real estate group uses aircraft quite a bit for projects all over western Canada and the US and utilization has also been growing with VFS business," says CEO Sacha McLean who runs Blackcomb Aviation along with Morris and Chairman/Secretary Jason McLean.
"Film business demand has been growing nicely for both fixed and rotary-wing equipment and we routinely use our Citations to fly to the Los Angeles area on film studio sales calls." The group recently flew a Mustang from YVR to business meetings at GPM (Grand Prairie TX) and OMA (Omaha NE) with Sacha and 3 managers aboard.
"We were able to do both meetings within 1.5 days with overall DOC cheaper than commercial airline options," says McLean. "Corporate aircraft help us put deals together and we were successful with both negotiations on that trip."
Honorary Chairman David McLean relaxes in the cabin of the Mustang as he discusses plans for future fleet expansion.
Business has been growing on both fixed and rotary fronts for Blackcomb. "We're budgeting 2011 to be a little better than 2010 and 2012 to be quite a bit better," says Sacha McLean.
"This year we're seeing increased utilization but rates are still soft. Next year we expect rates to climb closer to pre-2008 levels. We feel the local film market will be strong for at least the next 18 months and this is also driving fixed and rotary-wing demand."
Blackcomb remains in pilot hiring mode and looks forward to upcoming CJ4, Sovereign, Challenger 300 and AW109 fleet additions. An original plan had been to add a second Mustang but this order was recently swapped for a CJ4.
"The CJ4 is better suited to our future needs with additional range and 3 more seats than the Mustang," says McLean. "It's highly capable and just on the edge of being a medium jet." Blackcomb envisions significant opportunities for longer-range transcontinental and international capabilities says David McLean.
"We're seeing more life in the mid to supermidsize range of the market. Customers want nonstop capabilities throughout North America and we feel there's a good market here for Challenger 300 or Falcon 2000 type aircraft."