Flying into remote regions of Canada’s North conjures up romantic images of bush planes, on floats or skis, and pilots with nerves of steel navigating through blinding storms to bring much needed supplies to remote and isolated communities. Strong relationships between these pilots and the communities they flew into was not only essential to success, but survival. Small planes on floats and skis are still integral to the northern transportation system, but are not the only type of air transport in the Athabasca Basin today. A new breed of fast and efficient aircraft, like the eight-seat King Air, 19-seat Beechcraft 1900, and the 44-seat ATR42, move most of the people and supplies to and from the North. The element that has remained unchanged is the strong relationship between airline and community.
West Wind Aviation is a company that fosters those relationships. In addition to being a 30-year veteran of workforce transportation in Saskatchewan, West Wind is also a platinum member of Canada’s 50 Best Managed Companies. The company was founded in 1983, when it recognized the need for an aviation service that was focused on a high standard of safety, service, professionalism and strong relationships. Using this model the company grew from an eight-seat King Air and two pilots to the 250 employees and 28 aircraft company it is today. This growth included expanding the original workforce transportation mandate to include a charter and scheduled flight division. This commitment to excellence has earned West Wind the designation of approved carrier for Cameco, AREVA, and Rio Tinto, as well as the only Basic Aviation Risk Standard (BARS)-approved carrier in Western Canada.
Through all the growth and change that has occurred over the last 30 years West Wind Aviation has remained true to its Saskatchewan roots, and to the relationships and communities that have supported that growth. As Saskatchewan’s only first nations-owned airline (80 per cent first nations owned and 20 per cent employee owned) West Wind ensures that all stakeholders benefit from the opportunities that are plentiful in the province today and well into the future.
The long list of airlines that have come and gone to Saskatchewan’s north is a testament to how difficult and challenging it can be. West Wind’s connection to the remote communities and the people of the North through ownership is a key component of its long term success. Although flying in the North has changed significantly from the early bush flying days, success and survival are still tied to strong relationships between communities and the airplanes that connect them. West Wind will continue to grow those relationships into the future.