Pilot training company eyes B.C. location

Conair Group reaches deal with CAE for training centre for pilots of fire-fighting air tankers.

B.C pilots using may soon get their training locally.

B.C pilots using may soon get their training locally.

By Kelvin Gawley

B.C pilots using special air-tankers to fight forest fires who now have to train in Switzerland may soon get their training in Abbotsford, after an agreement was reached by a local company.

The pilots would be learning to fly the RJ85 airplane at a new facility built by CAE, an international pilot-training company. Abbotsford-based Conair Group Inc. recently announced it had reached an understanding with CAE to build this facility.

Abbotsford is “a key target location” for the facility, as proximity to Conair’s Abbotsford Airport facilities would make efficient sense, according to CAE Canada’s vice-president and general manager, Mike Greenley.

“Conair is pleased to be partnering with CAE to establish a world-class training centre, which will be another great example of the aerospace and wildfire innovations being developed here in British Columbia,” said Barry Marsden, chief executive officer of Conair.

B.C. pilots needing training currently have to go to Zurich, Switzerland to learn how to fly the RJ85, a four-engine jet aircraft. Conair has converted the former passenger aircraft to deliver fire-retardant material on forest fires. The planes will begin flying missions this summer as a pilot project with the province.

“Year after year, wildfire pilots risk their lives keeping communities safe,” said Brian Cochrane, business manager from the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 115, the union that represents Conair’s pilots.

“Being able to access military-grade flight training right here in the Lower Mainland could making training and upgrading skills more accessible for Conair’s aerial firefighters,” Cochrane said.

Greenley said he anticipates that CAE will be training pilots from across North America. Pilots would spend several weeks learning how to fly the RJ85 and practicing different wildfire scenarios in a simulator, which will be flown in from its current location in Brussels, Belgium.

Greenley did not disclose the construction budget, but called it a “significant investment in B.C.”