Origin Story: Looking into the Future with Canadian Air-Crane (CAC), Part 3

Looking back on the past 50 years shows us consistent patterns – there will be hardships and there will be success stories, but the “Erickson” vision always pushes forward.

By Gary Gentile, Canadian Air-Crane Manager  

The origin story of heli-logging and Canadian Air-Crane (CAC) all began within similar timelines from one brilliant and steadfast entrepreneur, Jack Erickson. He had a vision that was unheard of at the time to move timber off of mountaintops with helicopters, and he made that vision a reality. Just like each story in Part 1 and Part 2, there are hardships and milestones that have shifted the company and Jack’s vision forward. Part 3 of the origin story is no different.

Series of photos flying bundles of logs in B.C.

2020 and the COVID-19 Pandemic

The start of 2020 brought indications that the strike was close to being settled and the government had dropped the stumpage rates enough to give the B.C. forest industry some confidence to get back to work. This allowed CAC to get back to logging in late February, although COVID-19 restrictions followed by parts supply chain shortages interrupted operations at different times in March, April, and into May. Later in May, CAC resumed logging operations and continued without interruption until early December, with a forced shutdown occurring as they caught the fallers at TFL44. In this period, the aircraft had flown a respectable 1030 revenue hours. By the summer of 2020, log markets had improved along with demand for the S-64. This justified putting a second aircraft to work logging in Q4, so Mariah (N172AC) returned to B.C. at the end of the Greece fire contract. It got started logging in late October and continued until early May of 2021, when it was scheduled to return to Greece.

Q1 of 2021 did not start as planned for CAC. Jobs scheduled to start in January and February pushed into March due to delays with the government issuing cutting permits, the first nation consultation process, shortage of fallers and weather. Q2 brought better results for CAC with Lucille (N176AC) completing all its assigned logging jobs on schedule and Mariah (N172AC) completing its assigned logging jobs and returning to Medford on schedule.

The start of Q3 brought complete forest closures and a stop to all logging activity on the coast due to the extreme heat and drought conditions that the province was experiencing. Fortunately for CAC, as in past years when the fire hazard shuts down the logging operations, BC Wildfire Service (BCWFS) has a need for the S-64. This year N176AC was put on a BCWFS fire contract from July 2 until August 23 and flew a total of 232.2 hours. With WFP’s sawmills in need of logs, N176AC was able to return and begin logging for them within three days.

This year B.C.’s weather has gone from the summer months of extreme heat and dry conditions with little to no precipitation to the fall months having record amounts of rainfall. Since going back to logging, N176AC has been shut down time-and-time again by extreme weather events with record amounts of rainfall that continually exceed limits and close the forests to any activity due to the risk of landslides. This extreme weather which the scientists are claiming is a direct result of climate change and will become the norm, is just another challenge in a long list of many that CAC’s logging operations will have to contend with in the future.

Aircraft N172AC, logging at Bear Bay, in Bute Inlet. November 2014.

As of the date of writing this article, CAC accounting data indicates that 127,949.6 flight hours have been flown in Canada since 1994 (flight hour records prior to 1994 were not readily available to include in the above total). The following aircraft are included in that total: N6960R – C-GJZK -N176AC aka Lucille, N6962R – C-GFBH aka Olga, N164AC – C-FCRN aka Hulk, N172AC – C-FCRN aka Mariah, N957AC – C-GESG aka Ichabod, N194AC – C-GFLH aka Delilah, N179AC – C-GFAH aka Elvis, N247AC – C-GJRY aka Jerry, N158AC and N178AC aka Goliath.

In 2021, Lucille reached a milestone of 50,000 flight hours of which most were flown working in Canada.

Lucille reached a milestone of 50,000 flight hours in 2021 while working in Canada.

Today, there are currently 31 employees at Canadian Air-Crane, most of who have been here since the 1990s.

This achievement would not have been possible without the passion, dedication, and teamwork of a good number of people both past and present from Erickson and Canadian Air-Crane.