I have decided to post the following to this form as this is an issue that needs to see the light of day.
There are some unsavoury goings on in the Resort Municipality of Whistler that need to be made public. The issue involves the usurption of a public amenity by a large corporate entity, the aquiessence of the society directors that oversee the amenity to go along with the mismanagement and the willingness of the Resort Municipality of Whistler to turn a blind eye to the issues taking place.
At this point you are probably thinking that this is just going to be an rant by some disgruntled and disillusioned person, I know I would, but read on, it won’t be a waste of time.
As one of the persons affected by the actions and with a long association in the valley my intent with this report is to try and bring to light the history and story for the public and journalists (and politicians) we hope to engage in our effort to right a very obvious and grievous wrong. And for the record, I have been trying for over 5 months to get the local media to report on this. Initially they were very interested in the story and although they still profess to want to write it, it has been almost half a year!
My name is Mike Quinn and for 27 years from 1986 – 2013 I owned and operated Whistler Air a floatplane company based on Green Lake in Whistler that provided tourist services, general charter services and scheduled services. In 2013 I sold the company (or rather the assets… an asset sale) to Harbour Air a major Vancouver floatplane company. Initially my plan was to retire from work and go play but my girlfriend still had kids in high school and despite my pleas it was clear sailing off into the sunset wasn’t going to happen anytime soon. So I decided to reactivate Whistler Air (name had to be changed to Spearhead Aviation) and do the only thing my non competition clause allowed, rotary wing operations. (Whistler Air operated helicopters from 1991 – 1997) my plan now being to sell the company as a share sale when my girlfriend was ready to go sailing.
Now the history part…
Back in the mid eighties when Whistler was just taking off as a destination winter resort there were several helicopter landing zones in the Whistler area. This isn’t surprising as the many different operators sought out their own place to exist which at the time were easy to find. However as the winter heliskiing business grew and the larger and noisier machines arrived the town folk started to complain as most of the landing areas were next to residential areas. Eventually the decision was made to consolidate everyone to one out of town location. An area was identified and being crown land the municipality applied to the province for a lease. The Whistler Heliport Society (WHS) was created to in turn lease the property from the municipality and manage the operation. The board of directors of the newly created WHS was made up of people from the various companies that had an interest in using the facility.
Grants were obtained from both the federal and provincial governments to the tune of $3,000,000.00 and a professional airport design firm (Accuratus Engineering) hired to do the layout of the new heliport. The original plan had 5 plots for 5 different companies because at the time there were 5 helicopter operations taking place. I know all this because Whistler Air was the first company to set up shop there. At the time we had a Bell 47 helicopter in addition to our floatplane operation on Green Lake.
In 1997 I decided to suspend the rotary wing operations of Whistler Air and concentrate on our mushrooming floatplane operations. Consequently I had to give up our spot at the heliport. After I sold the assets of Whistler Air in 2013 and changed the name of the company to Spearhead Aviation and subsequently decided to reactivate our rotary wing operation I contacted the WHS to secure a spot back at the heliport.
By that time the heliport and the society managing it had gone through some major changes. Gone were the 5 different companies that originally started operations there either through attrition or sale. In fact only one actual helicopter company remained active at the facility, Blackcomb Aviation. Although some of directors on the board from out of town were still involved, the major player on the scene, Blackcomb Aviation, was a new company from Vancouver whose majority owners are the Mclean Group, a family run operation with tentacles in several ventures including the film industry. John Morris who is also an owner of Blackcomb Aviation, the company in question, had become the president of the WHS.
Mr. Morris was very unfriendly when I called him to inquire about getting re established at the heliport. He told me that there were no places left for new operators. I pointed out that he was the only operator there and that the place was designed for 5 operators so his comments were absurd. At that point he refused to talk with me anymore.
So I went public. I wrote a letter to the Pique Newsmagazine describing the ridiculousness of the situation. The publicity had the desired effect because shortly thereafter the municipality intervened and I was told they would let me lease a “6th” spot an area that had been created for the military for the 2010 Olympics. So in 2013 I built a hangar and commenced operations with a Bell 206 jetranger.
Now you have to appreciate how big the heliport is and how much of it is unused to see how ridiculous it is to claim there is no room for anyone else. The fact that I was regulated to a tiny area off to a side should have been enough for me to complain loudly. However as I was in for a short haul I didn’t, even though I knew Blackcomb Aviation was effectively running the WHS for their own benifit and fundamental changes needed to happen to make it more accountable. As I started to become established it became apparent that Blackcomb Aviation would not tolerate me stealing any of their customers. On one memorable occasion their chief pilot accosted the owner of an outdoor adventure company that was with me after we had just landed. The outdoor adventure company uses helicopters often and did a lot of business with Blackcomb Aviation. Their chief pilot screamed at him that if he ever flew with me again he would never be able to use Blackcomb Aviation. It became almost physical. I am recounting these incidents because it is necessary to understand the mentality that has and is going on with this situation.
In 2015 I sold Spearhead Aviation to an American who had an interest in aviation and wanted to buy an investment to facilitate immigrating to Canada. The timing was right, my girlfriend and I had just purchased a boat in France and started to plan to sail across the Atlantic. For 2016 and 17 the “Sea to Sky” became our home and took us on many adventures. After the crossing we parked the boat in Florida for the summer hurricane season and came back to BC.
While I was away I had received word that a fellow from Quebec, Denis Vincent, was interested in buying Spearhead Aviation from Will Graven, the american I had sold to. As it turned out Mr. Graven for a variety of personal issues was unable to put any effort into making Spearhead Aviation a going concern and Mr. Vincent who is an established helicopter operator wanting to set up in Whistler wanting to buy Mr. Graven out contacted me for assistance in the transaction.
Again I am recounting these facts as I believe it important to understand the complete story to make sense of it all. Mr. Vincent owns several helicopters which he leases out to other operators and a few which he operates himself under a Transport Canada certificate based in Quebec. It is important to note that an operating certificate from Transport Canada is valid anywhere in Canada.
Mr. Vincent is not new to the helicopter scene in BC. He has in the past attempted to make contact with the WHS to establish a relationship and secure a location. He has met with the same resistance that I encountered only more so. In fact Mr. Morris refused to take his calls or respond to any of his emails. You would think as the president of the WHS he would have an obligation to deal with other interested parties. But is clear to everyone that by now he was running the WHS purely in the interests of Blackcomb Aviation.
I met Mr. Vincent when I got back from Florida in May of 2017. I agreed to help him in the purchase of Spearhead Aviation from Will Graven and to assist in dealing with the WHS because I couldn’t stand to see them take over the heliport for their own use. It was built with public money for the community not for them!
When Mr. Morris got wind that Mr. Vincent was in the process of acquiring Spearhead Aviation he sent Mr. Graven a letter cancelling his lease with the WHS on the most spurious of grounds. He claimed that Mr. Graven had not paid his rent and then two days after he cancelled the lease he cashed the rent cheque that had been sent several months earlier. I know this hard to believe but that is what happened. Furthermore they claimed that the WHS would claim all the infrastructure on the heliport that was not removed within one month. That included a hangar and fuel facility that I had built on my location. Mr. Graven has not been able to respond to these atrocities because he no longer resides here and has issues in the US that have prevented him from properly paying attention to the situation.
By this time I was furiously writing letters to the mayor and council of Whistler and to the local news media. Guess what… nothing happened.
A lot of time was wasted in pointless meetings and long drawn out dialogue but at the end of the day… ya nada.
I get it. yes Blackcomb aviation is the darling of the town because they are always the ones on the news rescuing some poor soul somewhere.
So what!! that doesn’t give them licence to act like they own the heliport. The RMOW and the media need to figure that out.
A few weeks ago Mr. Vincent acquired Spearhead Aviation from Mr. Graven even though technically it no longer has any assets or a lease with the WHS. Mr. Vincent has accepted my offer to become a shareholder in Spearhead Aviation and together we will fight this battle. We moved a helicopter onto our old leased location on boxing day. We fully expect a confrontation soon.
This isn’t over.