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Chopper pilot dream come true thanks to Exchange Income Corp.

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Following the successful launch of the Atik Mason Indigenous Pilot Pathway in Thompson earlier this year, Exchange Income Corp. (EIC) is now sponsoring a young high school grad from St. Theresa Point to train to be a commercial helicopter pilot.

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Following the successful launch of the Atik Mason Indigenous Pilot Pathway in Thompson earlier this year, Exchange Income Corp. (EIC) is now sponsoring a young high school grad from St. Theresa Point to train to be a commercial helicopter pilot.

In early September, 18 year-old Mario Flett will be heading off to Chinook Helicopters in Abbotsford, B.C. for a 10 month intensive training to get his commercial helicopter pilot licence.

Custom Helicopters, an EIC company that has a fleet of more than 20 helicopters based across the country, is sponsoring Flett who was selected after a search assisted by the chief and council at St. Theresa Point.

Supplied

Mario Flett, 18, is the helicopter pilot trainee, from St. Theresa Point.

The Northern First Nation pilot training initiative is part of EIC’s efforts to recognize the call to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Flett, who graduated from South East Collegiate in Winnipeg, said he’s had a couple of rides on helicopters, but doesn’t know much about what it takes to fly one. He said if Custom Helicopters hadn’t reached out, he would have been looking for a job in the community this fall.

“I’ve always dreamed of flying a helicopter,” he said. “But I thought there’s no way it would ever happen because of how expensive it is.”

Jed Hansen, CEO of Custom Helicopters, said including room and board, it would typically cost about $125,000 to get your commercial licence. He said demand for pilots is increasing but the supply is not as strong as it once was.

“We need to not only look at how we are going to maintain our pilot workforce, but also how we are able to work with the communities that we operate in and have partnerships with,” he said.

The plan is that if Flett is successful in his training he would then go to work for Custom Helicopters.

“I’m pretty sure I’ll succeed,” Flett said.

Asked why he imagined the band council would recommend him for this opportunity, Flett laughed and said, “I’m pretty determined. I get things done on time.”

EIC is already in the process of spending about $1 million training 11 young men and women from a number of Northern First Nations to get their pilots licence and are prepared to continue to fund as many of them as possible to go on to get their commercial licences.

They will then all be offered jobs to fly with Perimeter Aviation, one of several small regional airlines that EIC owns.

Pam Plaster, vice-president of investor development at EIC, said the company takes community relationships seriously.

“It is part of our core beliefs,” she said.

The company is also sincere in finding ways to participate in economic reconciliation and hopes it can be an example for other companies.

“Another reason we do this is for employee retention,” she said. “This could be one of the best ways, in the terms of the markets we are dealing with, to retain employees. We need employees that want to live in the places where we do business.”

Currently Custom Helicopters has aircraft stationed in Thompson, Gillam and Island Lakes as well as in B.C., Newfoundland and Labrador and Nunavut. It has a diverse customer base doing business with mineral exploration companies, Hydro, environmental groups and medivac and medical transfer work.

While EIC brought the airplane trainers to Thompson to spare the airplane pilot trainees long absences from home, Flett will have to tough it out on his own in Abbotsford.

Flett, whose 18 year-old cousin, Kyla Flett is part of the pilot training program, said, “I’m pretty sure it won’t be a problem.”

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

Martin Cash

Martin Cash
Reporter

Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.

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