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CHC Group (CHC) has announced the beginning of a year-long celebration of the operator’s 70-year history since its humble beginnings as a crop dusting operation in British Columbia in April of 1947.
CHC traces its roots back to Carl Agar, A.H. “Barney” Bent, and Al Stringer, the three Canadian Air Force veterans who founded Okanagan Air Services on April 18, 1947. Over the next seven decades, CHC evolved from a single helicopter to a global leader in offshore transport, search-and-rescue, utility and emergency medical services.
“Our entire team recognizes that we are standing on the shoulders of some of the giants in the rotorcraft industry,” said Karl Fessenden, president and CEO of CHC Helicopter. “We recognize, appreciate and value the achievements that have helped build our legacy, and appreciate the contributions from our leadership and the many men and women who have worked hard across our business and over many years to support our customers.”
Okanagan Air Service took delivery of its first aircraft in August 1947, and Agar perfected the utility use of helicopters in rugged and remote mountainous terrain. By 1950, Okanagan was supporting the world’s largest year-round helicopter-supported construction project located in northern Canada.
As Okanagan Air Services grew, it was renamed to Okanagan Helicopters Limited in 1952. The company expanded into the oil-and-gas sectors and operations expanded north to the Arctic Islands, east to Newfoundland and then south to the United States. By the late 1950s, Okanagan was one of the largest and most experienced helicopter operators in the world.
Okanagan flew its first international contract in Central Asia in 1963, its first twin-engine instrument flight rules offshore crew change flight in the North Sea in 1965, and its first offshore flights to drilling platforms off North America’s the Pacific and Atlantic coasts in 1967 and 1969 respectively.
During the 1970s and 1980s, Okanagan’s expertise was in high demand, winning international oil-and-gas contracts in more than two-dozen nations, including the Peoples Republic of China.
In 1987, Craig Dobbin’s Sealand Helicopters merged with Okanagan Helicopters and Toronto Helicopters to create the Canadian Holding Company, which later became CHC. From this platform, the company continued to explore global merger and acquisition opportunities, including a 1994 merger with British International Helicopters, the 1999 acquisition of Norway’s Helikopter Services Group (including the original Bond Helicopters in the United Kingdom, Court Helicopters in South Africa and Australia’s Lloyd Helicopters) and the 2004 acquisition of Schreiner Aviation Group of the Netherlands, which had operations in Europe, Africa and Asia.
In 2005, CHC partnered with Brazilian Helicopter Services to further expand its capabilities into Latin America. Each of these companies also have their own rich histories that CHC will honor throughout the year.
In 2004, CHC created two distinct divisions: Helicopter Services, which covered global operations and Heli-One, the world’s largest independent helicopter maintenance, repair and overhaul provider. Today, both divisions continue to serve customers around the world across six continents.
Each year more than one million people rely on CHC aircraft to help them safely reach their destinations.
“We are proud of CHC’s rich history and are proud of our culture which recognizes and appreciates the various opportunities that have allowed us to become the global operators we are today. In the coming months, we will share additional stories, people, images and moments from our 70-year history with our customers, employees and others,” said Fessenden. “We are proud to look back on our heritage, especially as we prepare to move into a new era for CHC in the coming weeks. We also encourage everyone who has their own CHC moments and stories to share their memories as well.”