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)

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

(File photo)
RCMP left with many questions after odd report of stabbing in Parksville

Original caller left area because of outstanding arrest warrants; victim not forthcoming with police

PQB News reader Randy Hall set up a camera at the beach in Parksville, in the same spot every day in February, to capture the changing days and weather. (Randy Hall photo)
WATCH: Scenes from 28 days in February in Parksville

PQB News reader Randy Hall set up camera in same location each day

An Island Health nurse prepares a dose of COVID-19 vaccine. (Photo courtesy Island Health)
Health authority opening 19 clinics to immunize Vancouver Island residents

Health authority anticipates more than 40,000 people will be immunized over the next month

(PQB News file photo)
Some frustrated Parksville Qualicum Beach residents now tossing recyclables in garbage

Option is driving to collection centres in Nanaimo and Courtenay

(The Canadian Press)
‘Worse than Sept. 11, SARS and financial crisis combined’: Tourism industry in crisis

Travel services saw the biggest drop in active businesses with 31 per cent fewer firms operating

Montreal Canadiens right wing Paul Byron (41) fights for control of the puck with Vancouver Canucks defenceman Quinn Hughes (43) during first period NHL action in Vancouver, Monday, March 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Captain Clutch: Horvat nets shootout winner as Canucks edge Habs 2-1

Vancouver, Montreal tangle again on Wednesday

Cottonwoods Care Home in Kelowna. (Google Maps)
New COVID-19 outbreak at Kelowna care home includes fully vaccinated seniors: Henry

Two staff and 10 residents tested positive at Cottonwoods Care Centre

A sports car crashed into a lamp standard and rolled down the hill behind Country Club Centre mall on Sunday night. (Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin)
Sports car crashes into lamp post, rolls down hill behind Nanaimo mall

Driver uninjured in incident Sunday night on Norwell Drive

A special committee has been appointed to look at reforming B.C.’s police act and is inviting the public to make submissions until April 30, 2021. (Black Press media file)
Have thoughts on B.C.’s review of the provincial Police Act?

Submissions will be accepted until April 30

Excerpts from a conversation between Bria Fisher and the fake truLOCAL job. Fisher had signed a job agreement and was prepared to start work for what she thought was truLOCAL before she learned it was a scam. (Contributed)
B.C. woman warning others after losing $3,000 in job scam

Bria Fisher was hired by what she thought was a Canadian company, only to be out thousands

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix provide a regular update on the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, March 2, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 cases: 545 Saturday, 532 Sunday, 385 Monday

Focus on Prince Rupert, Lower Mainland large workplaces

Rising accident rates and payout costs have contributed to billion-dollar deficits at ICBC. (Comox Valley Record)
B.C. appealing decision keeping ICBC injury cases in court

David Eby vows to ‘clip wings’ of personal injury lawyers

Most Read