Coulson Aviation is doubling down to look for opportunities at home that are as fruitful as those they’ve secured abroad, according to CEO Wayne Coulson.
“The Forest Service put out a request for proposal and they would give consideration to next gen airtankers,” said Coulson.
“This is a seven-year contract with three one-year extensions.”
The RFP for the 2017 firefighting season, according to the province, “is seeking proposals from qualified firms for the supply of up to two turbine powered airtanker(s) and one turbine powered bird dog aircraft with all personnel and supporting services in order to maintain and /or enhance wildfire control capabilities.”
The tankers must have a minimum capacity of 7,500 litres each, variable/constant flow tank, a combined capacity of between 11,000 and 19,000 litres and support, maintenance and personnel.
Coulson couldn’t comment further on his company’s bid at the time (deadline is June 22), but said that getting work in B.C. was crucial to maintaining a base here in Port Alberni.
“We love the community and I think we have full support of our community—that’s why we’re here—we need to diversify into B.C. We welcome the opportunity to bid on these upcoming contracts and we believe we’ll be successful based on nothing but performance,” said Coulson but admitted that there could be more at play in B.C. where the relationship between him and the province had become tenuous in the past few years.
“As I think it does in most countries, politics plays a big role in Canada.”
He cited the company’s success in markets like Australia and the United States, including a recent U.S. Forest Service contract to outfit C-130s with tanking systems.
“If we stand back for a second, we’re a Canadian company in the United States. We’re the only Canadian company in the United States. We didn’t get contracts because of politics, we got contracts because of performance. And the same holds true in Australia. I’m not sure the same holds true here and that will be the test to B.C.—are we going to be able to build a contract based on performance and not on politics.”
But even without B.C jumping on board, deals that have been years in the making could pay off bigtime for both Coulson and Port Alberni now.
Coulson Aviation signed a memorandum of understanding to provide the tanking system for Airbus’ C295W’s back in late 2015.
(Story continues below)
That relationship with Airbus, Coulson said, positions Port Alberni well if Airbus is to win a federal government search and rescue contract being bid on now.
According to feds, the new planes will replace CC-115 Buffalo aircraft and 13 CC-130H Hercules and the contract will be award in late 2016 or early 2017.
It’s multiyear deals like that, Coulson said, that are the bread-and-butter of the Coulson Group’s successful aviation arm.
“There’s no such thing as overnight success. All of these bigger projects are multiyear and we have many multiyear projects that we work on all the time,” he said, but noted that there’s always an element of risk with reaching out.
“I would think for the most part, probably seven or eight fail and one or two come through. And I don’t think that’s different. When you’re an entrepreneur you’re always looking for new opportunities to build your story.”
Sometimes however, those relationships can pay off in a big way.
“ [The deal with] Airbus has been three-and-a-half years…the relationship you make every meeting is a building block into the foundation of that relationship.”
If Airbus were to win that search and rescue contract, they would be required to spend around $3 billion somewhere in Canada.
“They’ve only placed a billion of it. Airbus has got $1.5-2 billion [of investment] that is going to go somewhere in Canada and should go right here in Port Alberni,” said Coulson. The currently expanding Alberni Valley Regional Airport makes it possible for Port Alberni to become Airbus’ western Canadian hub.
“That’s not just good for us or the community, it’s also good for the Island. So many small businesses would be able to benefit from an Airbus presence on the West Coast.”
As fire seasons worldwide get longer and government budgets grow, there’s a lot in the wings for Coulson in the coming months and years.
“We’re always out there looking for contracts,” he said.
“We love Port Alberni so we’re always going to have a presence in Port Alberni.”