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

Just Posted

A cloud of black smoke rose over Campbellton on Sunday as a shed was on fire. Photo courtesy Janet Barrett.
Fire crews attend structure fire in Campbellton area

Black smoke seen in vicinity of fire

The City of Campbell River will purchase an automated external defibrillator (AED) for the Overdose Prevention Site after a letter from a local paramedic pointed out it doesn’t have one. Black Press File Photo
City of Campbell River to buy defibrillator for downtown Overdose Prevention Site

Local paramedic pens letter asking for city’s assistance after trying other avenues to acquire AED

Campbell River RCMP. RCMP photo
Two knife incidents reported on same day in Campbell River

Stabbing and knife fight both occured on May 13

Cash, drugs and weapons were seized by the Street Crimes Unit on May 12. Photo supplied by Campbell River RCMP
Police recover cash, drugs and weapons after arrest

18-year-old arrested in Willow Point Park for drug trafficking

Daily confirmed COVID-19 cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day rolling average in white, to May 12, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C. preparing ‘Restart 2.0’ from COVID-19 as June approaches

Daily infections fall below 500 Friday, down to 387 in hospital

A vial of AstraZeneca vaccine is seen at a mass COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, April 22, 2021. Dr. Ben Chan remembers hearing the preliminary reports back in March of blood clots appearing in a handful of European recipients of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Science on COVID, VITT constantly changing: A look at how doctors keep up

While VITT can represent challenges as a novel disorder, blood clots themselves are not new

Poached trees that were taken recently on Vancouver Island in the Mount Prevost area near Cowichan, B.C. are shown on Sunday, May 10, 2021. Big trees, small trees, dead trees, softwoods and hardwoods have all become valuable targets of tree poachers in British Columbia as timber prices hit record levels. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jen Osborne.
Tree poaching from public forests increasing in B.C. as lumber hits record prices

Prices for B.C. softwood lumber reached $1,600 for 1,000 board feet compared with about $300 a year ago

The warm weather means time for a camping trip, or at least an excursion into nature. How much do you know about camps and camping-related facts? (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
QUIZ: Are you ready to go camping?

How many camp and camping-related questions can you answer?

On Friday, May 14 at Meadow Gardens Golf Club in Pitt Meadows, Michael Caan joined a very elite club of golfers who have shot under 60 (Instagram)
Crowds at English Bay were blasted with a large beam of light from an RCMP Air-1 helicopter on Friday, May 14. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marc Grandmaison
Police enlist RCMP helicopter to disperse thousands crowded on Vancouver beach

On Friday night, police were witness to ‘several thousand people staying well into the evening’

Sinikka Gay Elliott was reported missing on Salt Spring Island on Wednesday, May 12. (Courtesty Salt Spring RCMP)
Body of UBC professor found on Salt Spring Island, no foul play suspected

Sinikka Elliott taught sociology at the university

The first Black judge named to the BC Supreme Court, Selwyn Romilly, was handcuffed at 9:15 a.m. May 14 while walking along the seawall. (YouTube/Screen grab)
Police apologize after wrongly arresting B.C.’s first Black Supreme Court Justice

At 81 years old, the retired judge was handcuffed in public while out for a walk Friday morning

Queen Elizabeth II and Clive Holland, deputy commonwealth president of the Royal Life Saving Society, top left, virtually present Dr. Steve Beerman, top right, with the King Edward VII Cup for his drowning-prevention work. Tanner Gorille and Sarah Downs were honoured with Russell Medals for their life-saving resuscitation. (Buckingham Palace photo)
Queen presents Vancouver Island doctor with award for global drowning prevention

Dr. Steve Beerman receives Royal Life Saving Society’s King Edward VII Cup at virtual ceremony

Most Read