Interior Helicopters Ltd. has been flying the Fort St. James skies since 1996. Started originally by Grant and Westley Luck, the company was bought in 2006, and is now owned and run by Tom Schaff in partnership with Jeff Cleveland and is a 51 per cent aboriginal owned company.
“I just had always wanted a helicopter company,” said Schaff. “We had the opportunity in 2006 to buy the company from Grant and Westley Luck, long-time helicopter people in town here.”
Schaff wears many hats with Interior Helicopters, he is also the Director of Maintenance and does quality assurance. He has been running maintenance since 1989 and said the company has its main base in Fort St. James, a base in Williams Lake and a temporary base in Kamloops.
He added the long-term plan is to eventually have the Kamloops base become a permanent maintenance base for the company.
“We hope at one point to have our maintenance base (in Kamloops). It’s just hard to get people to Fort St. James,” he said. “But, we’ll wait until the market changes a bit before we do that.”
The company does work for forestry, oil and gas, and the diamond drilling industry, Schaff said the bulk of the work they do at Interior involves transporting drills and crew to remote mountain exploration sites.
“We do a lot of diamond drilling. The market has been down but that’s mostly what we’ve been doing,” he said. “It takes a lot to get those contracts.”
Interior currently has nine people on staff, including Schaff’s son Taylor who is an apprentice engineer. In the maintenance hangar sit four of its six helicopters: Two jet rangers, an MD 600 and a BO 105. Schaff said the 105 came up from the U.S.A., decommissioned from its work with the DEA in Hawaii and Texas.
”This one has a rigid rotor system, it’s a BO 105 it’s made in Germany by MBB. It’s a good lifter,” he said. “We bought it out of the States and brought it up here and we took 200 pounds of radio gear out it.”
Schaff said Forestry likes to use the MD 600 because it can get into tight areas due to the lack of a tail rotor. He added that most of the company’s forestry work happens in Williams Lake.
“Mostly in Williams Lake we do forestry. We have a three-year contract right now,” he said. “We stay pretty busy in Williams Lake.”
Like all industry, Schaff said the company has had its ups and downs, but said the jobs are picking up again.
He said with the bases in different areas it offers the company the opportunity to get to know the communities and build solid relationships with area businesses.
“With helicopters it doesn’t really matter, you just go where the work is,” he said. “The base situation works really good. Having bases you get to know the people. It’s been really good here and there isn’t a lot of competition.”
And although the helicopter business is often feast or famine said Schaff, he said he wouldn’t change a thing about the business he’s in.
“I’m not in it for the money, I’m in it because I love it.”