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.


Blackcomb Aviation Citation Sovereign over Vancouver. The Sovereign joined the fleet 5 years ago in order to boost transcontinental capabilities.

Pilot opportunities

Blackcomb anticipates ongoing pilot hiring on both fixed and rotary-wing fronts. "We look for attitude in hiring pilots along with good base credentials," says Morris. "We'll hire first officers with as little as 1000 hrs TT and captains usually come in with at least 3000 hrs TT.

We like pilots with initiative and who are able to communicate well with passengers. You have to be a people person in a relationship based business like this."

Blackcomb fixed wing pilots are typically on call 18 days per month and fly 35–70 hrs monthly. Recurrent training is accomplished twice a year at FlightSafety Intl with most pilots dual qualified. Ample advance notice is typical for Part 91 flights and charter launches usually involve 2–3 days notice. On call pilots are required to report for duty within 90 min.

On the rotary-wing front missions involve everything from powerline maintenance to forestry and mining support, heli skiing and movie business flying. "Heli skiing is big business for us during winter months, involving at least 8 helicopters, and it has its own set of challenges," adds Morris.

Hiring preference related to heli skiing is for pilots with good external load and winter ops experience. "It's not uncommon to operate 14 cycles per hour in poor weather and low visibility on heli ski ops," says Rotary Ops Mgr Andrew Bradley.

He suggests it can take a good year for a new helicopter pilot to get a full grasp of all that goes on. "We bring in local trainers to teach flying in a wire environment and finer points of heli ski ops. We've flown every kind of camera mount you can think of and accomplished a wide range of movie work—from X-Men, Fantastic Four and A-Team flying projects to extreme ski films where people may jump out of our helicopters onto 60° snow covered slopes."

Scheduling and maintenance

Blackcomb Aviation occupies a full hangar at Landmark YVR. Today's mix includes Citation Mustang, 2 Citation Bravos, Citation Encore and a Eurocopter EC120.

VP Steve Wright oversees Blackcomb's dispatch department which includes Chief Scheduler Sulaiman Umar and Scheduler Kayo Yamamoto. Web-based SchedAero software is used to schedule aircraft and crews and handle all phases of trip management. For international trips Blackcomb uses Honeywell GDC flight planning.

Fuel cards used in this flight department include Avfuel, Air BP, Colt Intl and World Fuel Services. To minimize operational costs the department negotiates all fuel uplifts in advance and is not afraid to haggle over FBO and ramp fee charges.

Fixed wing missions range from typical 1 to 2-day Mustang trips, with flight sectors up to 800 nm, to long-range launches aboard the Sovereign at stage lengths to 2500 nm. Bravos are typically scheduled on missions up to 1200 nm while the Encore routinely handles 1500-nm legs.

The day we visited Blackcomb's Sovereign had just returned from NAS (Nassau, Baha­mas) and was departing on a nonstop leg to ORL (Exec, Orlando FL). Longest sector for the Sovereign to date was an EYW (Key West FL)–YVR nonstop. Sovereign flights from YVR–HON make it nonstop 70% of the time and, otherwise, are flight planned with a tech stop at OAK (Oakland CA).

"We've taken the Sovereign all over Europe with trips up to 10 days and 6 stops often using SFJ (Søndre Strømfjord, Greenland) as a tech stop," says Sulaiman. "Many of our clients value the ability to overfly the US and avoid regulatory hassles of dealing with US customs and immigration. When you're flying to the Bahamas, Mexico or Cuba it's always an advantage not having to plan a tech stop in the US."

Bell 205 at the McLean Group's film and TV production facility—Vancouver Film Studios.

Blackcomb has one client who routinely flies LHR (Heathrow, London, England) to YVR by airline and charters a Bravo to continue on to southern California. "This client tells us that after Sep 11 he's no longer willing to fly commercial airlines within US airspace," adds Sulaiman.

Blackcomb's fixed-wing aircraft currently charter out for about $2095 per hour for the Mustang, $2900/hr on the Bravo, $3200/hr for the Encore and about $5250/hr for the Sover­eign. Annual utilization runs 350–450 hrs with charter activity accounting for 70% of Sovereign usage, 80% of Mustang flight hours and 90% of Bravo air time.

Fixed Wing Dir Maintenance Chris Frey orchestrates support at YVR along with maintenance technician Patrick Chesters. "We do line maintenance inspections up to 3 year Citation checks and avionics replacements but not heavy overhauls," he says. "We've put 100 hrs on our Mustang with no AOGs or problems.

The Sovereign, which we've operated since 2006, has also been trouble free. Product support from Cessna has been superb and we keep limited spares and rotables on site."
Engine work is usually dispatched to Pratt & Whitney or Dallas Airmotive and heavy airframe maintenance usually goes to Cessna service center SMF (Intl, Sacramento CA).

Both the Sovereign and Mustang are on factory engine and airframe maintenance plans. Fixed-wing aircraft are based at Landmark Aviation YVR with the FBO providing fuel and aircraft movement support.

Rotary Dir Maintenance James Rose has a team of 15 technicians, including an avionics tech, at a 3000 sq ft hangar facility at YWS, a 7000-ft facility at YPS and at other rotary wing bases throughout the system. Since joining in 2007 with a fleet of just 4 helicopters it's been a roller coaster ride says Rose.

"Within a couple of years we were up to 17 helicopters but the family has a passion for aviation and we've been able to keep up with growth," he says. "Not only is our fleet varied, but the work we do is also varied. We do everything from heli skiing support to VIP transport of movie actors and maintaining powerlines.

We'll often get crazy requests out of left field—such as putting a big gun package on a helicopter, with very little lead time for regulatory approvals, for a movie shoot—but we find ways to make it all happen."

Rose reports that Bell and Eurocopter's airframe support has been good but the situation becomes hit or miss when it involves dealing with European-based suppliers. "Sourcing subcomponents from Europe tends to provide challenges for us and it can be particularly com­plicated dealing with Turbomeca in France," he says. Looking ahead, Rose hopes to add an avionics shop and a paint shop at YPS.

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