By Vivian Moreau
Wynne Powell is so excited he’s on the edge of his seat.
“How many helicopters can you put skis in the back?” the president of London Air and London Drugs asks. He’s busy showing passengers how to buckle up four-point harnesses, explains the emergency exit pop out window (“please don’t practice this it would cost a fortune”) and reels off a list of features for London Air’s $12 million, three-month-old Italian-built, helicopter.
Relatively quiet for a helicopter — ear protection is not needed inside — Powell keeps talking as the helicopter lifts off from Whistler Heliport for a demonstration run over Whistler and Blackcomb mountains promoting London Air’s charter air service between Vancouver and Whistler that begins Oct. 10.
“When we brought this into Vancouver, traffic control asked us to confirm what kind of aircraft we were. They couldn’t believe a helicopter could do 170 knots,” he said. The 15-seat helicopter can fly up to 20,000 feet and can fly day or night.
London Air does not plan on running regular scheduled helicopter service to Whistler, but instead will focus on high-end users. Powell says the helicopter’s safety standards, smoothness, and carrying capacity will make it attractive for high-rolling clients willing to pay $4,300 an hour to charter the craft.
“When Faith Hill came to Whistler it took her three and a half hours in a limo on the highway. We could get her here in 27 minutes,” he said.
Along for the tour, Chateau Whistler general manager Paul Tormey said London Air is a welcome addition to Whistler.
“Lack of air service is the number one problem for guests coming to Whistler,” he said.
Helijet Airways has twice launched scheduled helicopter service between Vancouver and Whistler, and twice cancelled the service.
The Agusta AW139 is the first helicopter for seven-year old London Air, a subsidiary of Vancouver-based H.Y. Louie Co. Powell started up the charter air service in 1999 in response to continual frustrations with regular airlines. As president of London Drugs Powell was logging up to 160,000 miles a year and found he was wasting too much time hanging around airports.
“But we didn’t just want aircraft just for London’s purposes, we wanted to turn it into a business,” he said. The company now has four Lear jets and two Challengers on hand, and have a second Agusta on order.
Powell thinks that although Canadian executives are more conservative than American counterparts, who are more inclined to charter private aircraft, he said Canadians have become more used to the idea.
“It is expensive to use but look at this and ask if it is a valid use of the dollars. What many of our customers, chief financial officers, have learned is that it’s not what you spend, it’s what you make.”