Whitehorse Daily Star

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HARD AT WORK – A Trans North Helicopters Airbus As350 is on the job last year in the area around Carcross. Photos courtesy of TRANS NORTH HELICOPTERS

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BUILDING A BUSINESS – The four founders of what was originally Trans North Turbo Air pose for a photo back in the early days of the company. Left to right are Al Kapty, Chuck Hankins, Gordon Davis and Ron Connelly. The youngster is Davis’s son, Gordon. Photos courtesy of TRANS NORTH HELICOPTERS

‘I guess it is a sign of the times’

Trans North Helicopters will cease operations on April 30, after 52 years serving the Yukon, the company announced this morning.

By Chuck Tobin on November 22, 2019

Trans North Helicopters will cease operations on April 30, after 52 years serving the Yukon, the company announced this morning.

Trans North chair R.J. Lundquist told the Star this morning the primary reason for putting the company up for sale is the death this past summer of Gordon Davis, one of the founders of what was initially called Trans North Turbo Air.

Lundquist’s father, Ron Connelly, was also among the four founding owners, along with Al Kapty and Chuck Hankins.

Davis was the last of the four when he passed away last July, while he was still serving as the company president.

Lundquist said the intent is to sell the company. The last resort would be liquidating their assets individually, she said.

“We are currently in discussions and doing due diligence with a potential buyer, and we are in talks with other interested parties,” she said.

Lundquist said Trans North owns seven helicopters, leases two others and has 14 full-time employees, but the company roster swells in the spring and summer, like every helicopter business.

The company at one time had seven helicopter bases in the Yukon.

For the first 20 or so years after opening its hangar doors in the spring of 1967, Trans North Turbo Air also provided airplane service throughout the Yukon.

Trans North issued a press release this morning announcing its decision.

“The decision has been a very difficult one to make as our outstanding management and personnel over the company’s more than half-century of operating history have been dedicated to ensuring our fleet has operated in an uncompromising and beneficial way for our valuable customers,” says the release.

“To these clients – We thank you for your trust and we have enjoyed playing an important role in the work you have done and continue to do, particularly in exploration activities in the Yukon.

“We would like to thank our employees, past and present, who have made Trans North the admired family-owned company it is today.

“You have instilled excellence in the Yukon’s travel industry every step of the way and have truly helped the business live up to its slogan: “Where the Road Ends, We Begin.”

Trans North told its employees the news this week.

When the company started, each of the four partners brought with them their individual expertise: Davis’s was in mining exploration and business; Connelly was an experienced businessman and pilot; Kapty was a longtime helicopter executive; and Hankin was an experienced helicopter engineer.

The chair of company’s board of directors said after Davis passed away, the general feeling was that it’s time to move on.

“With the passing of Gordon, that was really the point,” said Lundquist, who served as the company vice-president.

“We missed his leadership, and it was decided it was time to pass it on to the next generation of new guardians. That was really the primary reason.”

Lundquist acknowledged times have been lean particularly with the slowdown in the exploration business, though the last couple of years were better than the previous couple.

Clint Walker of Fireweed Helicopters said this morning the recent downturn in mineral exploration in the Yukon has had a major impact on helicopter companies in general.

Back in the exploration heydays of 2010 and 2011, helicopter companies were having a hard time keeping up with the demand, but that is not the case these days, he said.

He said there’s also been an impact on local companies from the Yukon government’s policy of hiring helicopters for work, insisting everything go through the competitive bid process, locally and Outside.

Walker said using the tender process for government work sounds like the appropriate way to do business. But it can also have an impact on companies trying to maintain helicopter bases in the smaller communities like Ross River, he pointed.

Walker explained that you can use the example of wildlife field work that occurs mostly during the winter.

Instead of hiring the company that already has a base in the immediate area, or sharing it between companies that have bases there, the government began the practice several years ago of putting it out to tender.

There was a time when those three or four hours of flying time here and three hours or four there allowed a company to keep the lights on at its smaller bases.

Without the work, those bases closed or became seasonal, and suddenly the community is without a helicopter for emergencies for a large part of the year, he said.

“It’s unfortunate because they are a longtime company here in the Yukon, just about 53 years,” Walker said.

“With a change in the business climate we are in, I guess it is a sign of the times.”

Comments (19)

Up 0 Down 0

Mike Papageorge on Jun 19, 2020 at 1:59 am

I had the pleasure of flying with TNTA for many years in the late 90s and early 2000s (many hours with Adam from the comment above!). Sad if they do go away, though it appears in the news today (June 19th, 2020) that they may have found a way to stay. Whenever I think of the Yukon, TNTA is always a part of it!

Up 1 Down 0

Eric Rempel on Apr 15, 2020 at 10:46 pm

Sorry to see the demise of a very family oriented company. TNTA provided me with my first job in aviation as a fixed wing pilot in 1974 and for that I am grateful to them. I have many fond memories of many good people.

Up 1 Down 0

Cliff Armstrong on Dec 16, 2019 at 8:17 pm

Back in 1968 I was the second pilot hired by TNTA and flew many thousands of hours in the 11 years I was with them. They were a fantastic company to work for. Transport Canada didn't have the regulations then they control the pilots with now so we flew as many hours as needed my first year I flew 1085 hours as pilot in their Bell 47 G4 CF-RQM. Fantastic company and best management any one could ask for. Goodbye with a big tear in my eye.

Up 1 Down 0

Eric Phillips on Dec 7, 2019 at 4:06 pm

I was dismayed to read of the news of TNTA's possible closure. Chuck Hankins hired me as an apprentice out of BCIT in March 1970. At the time I asked him how much work there would be in the future and his reply was "oh a good 20 years". At 20 years old, that was a lifetime away. Well, with the company having 50+ years behind it, things have gone alright. I'm glad that we were able to have a couple reunions over the years. Although I left the company in 1976, many of my coworkers remain friends today.

Up 2 Down 0

Rob Fletcher on Nov 28, 2019 at 5:30 pm

Very sorry to hear the bad news. As base manager in Inuvik and later as Ops Manager and 11 months as the Chief Pilot too. It was quite a ride. As Ops Manager I was the keeper of the secret Moose Milk recipe that we generously poured at the Vancouver Mining Convention for countless yrs. I guess it's safe to finally share it with all our friends. 16 bottles Ron Caricoa Amber rum, 16 bottles of Vodka, 16 bottles of Creme DeCacao, 24 jugs of whole milk and 32 cans of Eagle brand milk. In 2001 Al Kapty said we had to reduce the milk by 25%. He always knew how to make a good drink. Cheers All, Rob Fletcher

Up 8 Down 0

Miles Epanhauser on Nov 28, 2019 at 11:29 am

Yes, it's too bad the signs of the times does not include addressing the way the city has treated Trans North and Alpine Aviation.

Up 9 Down 4

Juniper Jackson on Nov 27, 2019 at 1:58 pm

It is a sign of the times.. but it shouldn't be. We should be living in the greatest era, the greatest country of prosperity in the world. But we aren't. Business is closing down, leaving Canada, laying off employee's, cutting wages..we are now a 3rd world country.

Up 27 Down 3

Bandit on Nov 26, 2019 at 12:46 pm

Sorry to see the business gone but there is no mention of the B.S. they were put through due to the new City Operations Building. Is it a possibility they couldn't find a suitable space to relocate and/or the recent loss of Mr. Davis they just got tired of a fight that seemed to defeat them at every turn? Maybe the City should buy the business from them.

Up 35 Down 0

Adam Morrison on Nov 25, 2019 at 8:44 pm

Thanks everyone for your kind words. Trans North Turbo Air truly was a fantastic company ! I started there in 1972 as a labourer and ended up as a Pilot / Engineer / Base Manager Dawson City for 25 years and Operations Manager in Whitehorse for my last three years in aviation. I was encouraged and assisted by this company to go to school and learn the aviation business. They assisted me every step of the way ! Thank you Al, Ron, Chuck and Gordon and so many others at TNTA !

Up 31 Down 2

SheepChaser on Nov 25, 2019 at 10:00 am

Headline should be rewritten.

TransNorth has been great to fly with for search and rescue activities. Their pilots are highly skilled and reliable. Hopefully the Yukoners that work for them are able to stay in the territory. Would be a shame to lose them to opportunities elsewhere.

Up 30 Down 0

Doug Caldwell on Nov 24, 2019 at 12:52 pm

Reading this article caused me to remember some of my adventurous days while working for Total North Communications in the 80s before much of the technology in place today was invented. The work we did was to install and maintain community television stations and similar mountaintop broadcast and telecommunications systems around the Yukon. Of course we used helicopters to get us to these sites and back again. Often we would be slinging hundreds of pounds of propane to the TV sites as that was the fuel for the thermal generators that powered these systems and twice a year they needed to be re-charged, and as Murphy would dictate, a number of these ran out of gas while the Stanley Cup was underway and Yukoners just had to have their TV no matter what the weather conditions were at the time. There were times when the weather prohibited us from flying, and there were also times when the weather delayed our trip off the mountain and back to the place where our vehicles were.
It was my pleasure to fly with some truly wonderful TNTA pilots who ensured our continued safety as we did our work. The late Doug Makkonen and George Howell, Brian Parsons, Adam Morrison, and a number of others whose names I have since forgotten. Thanks for the memories I will cherish the rest of my days.

Up 25 Down 0

Gary Watson on Nov 23, 2019 at 8:23 pm

Sad to here this. I first met them in 1972 when the company I was working for International Jetair from Calgary bought out GNA and placed an Electra on the
Whitehorse Inuvik Route. I managed their avionics department and callused out a lot of work for TNTA. Great bunch of people including Al Kapty, ( who I beat out for a case of wine on an annual radio auction). Great times with Chuck, Rocky, Arden and Bob Cameron and many others

Up 24 Down 0

Matthew on Nov 23, 2019 at 3:20 pm

Connelly and Kapty and all of the employees were really terrific citizens. Somebody will probably buy it.

Up 61 Down 1

Carl Friesen on Nov 23, 2019 at 11:44 am

TNTA has been one of the great companies in the history of Yukon business! Their reliability, safety, commitment to community based service and professionalism were their hallmarks. I raise my glass in memory of Gordon, Al & the others and to Arden and the many other TNTAers. Congratulations on wonderful work done.

Up 34 Down 37

Matthew on Nov 23, 2019 at 6:39 am

Sad really.. seems like yet another company closing due to government regulations.. just how far will it go before everyone working is working for the government.. and guess what, it's only going to get worse. Can thank carbon tax for that.

Up 31 Down 10

Moose on Nov 22, 2019 at 9:46 pm

Well that's a misleading headline. They are selling the business. That is much different from permanently closing. Lots of businesses change hands without folding. Even Minto mine recently.

Up 39 Down 2

K. Inner-Taylor on Nov 22, 2019 at 5:15 pm

Losing TNTA is a very sad thing. Having grown up here and living here, the loss of this Yukon grown and iconic business is very sad and disturbing. Not only will I miss them but our communities will miss them as well.

Up 26 Down 1

Ivan Whitticase on Nov 22, 2019 at 4:57 pm

Very sorry to hear about the possible closure, Trans North will be sadly missed. I spent several years working in the Yukon for Buffalo Airways when they had helicopters and often worked along side Trans North crews on fires etc. We always had a good working relationship.

Up 30 Down 3

Ozwald on Nov 22, 2019 at 4:21 pm

This company has had a romantic past with the north.

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