Guest Editorial: Québec Bush Flying is Dying

Québec bush flyingImage courtesy of Pierre Langlois

One Canadian bush pilot shares his experience and why he thinks that Québec bush flying business is next to dead.

Québec bush flying

DHC-2 Beaver Mk.1 – c/n 497 – Bel Air Laurentien Aviation Ltd. – Photo courtesy of Glenn R Thrower

Canadian bush pilot Claude Larose is concerned about what’s happening with both bush and water flying in Québec and wanted to share with us some of the things he’s seen over his years of flying, along with recent trends he is seeing. Hopefully we can take what Mr. Larose is sharing to heart and think about what we can do to help reverse this trend to help protect #TheFutureOfWaterflying.

The bush flying business in the province of Québec is DYING. Thanks to the government and the Department of Transportation (D.O.T.). First in the 1980’s the government authorized the logging companies to build bridges and roads in the bush for their logging operations. From that point forward fisherman, hunters, and camp owners didn’t need float planes anymore.

The company I was flying for then, Bel Air Laurentian Aviation, in Lac a la Tortue, operated 1 Otter, 2 Beavers, and 4 Cessna 206s. By 1990 it only had 1 Cessna 206 and barely survived. By the way, Lac a la Tortue was the first commercial sea-plane base established in Canada in 1919. A few years later, I flew for Air Saguenay the company had 35 airplanes, operating 10 bases from Lac St-John to Schefferville and the North-Shore. They had to move their main base twice more than 100 miles North to keep in business because the logging companies kept building more roads, making it impossible to make a profitable business.

Today they’re down to about 10 planes and barely surviving. In Ontario the province next to Québec the logging industry has to put back nature like it was before they went in the bush after they are finished logging, since they will not be back before 40 years. The flying business there is in good shape.

Between 1990 and 1997 I flew for Portneuf Aviation out of Lac St-Augustin near Québec city. We had 1 Otter, 4 Beavers, and a 206 and on the same lake, Roger Forgues Aviation had 3 Beavers and 2 Cessna 206s. The main business was sightseeing tours over the St-Laurence river and Québec city with tourists from Europe traveling in groups by busses. Soon residents complained to the city about the noise there even though the seaplane base had been in operation since the1940’s. More people joined in and soon there were 25 mayors and about 600,000 people complaining and putting pressure on the D.O.T. to stop the flying from that lake.

First they tried some restrictions but the complaints just kept coming. So, in the fall of 1997 D.O.T. stopped all sightseeing tours from Lac St-Augustin, shutting down the 2 companies since 95% of their flying was sightseeing tours. A few years later they did the same for Wheeler Aviation close to mount Tremblant North of Montréal; they had been in business for 60 years. A few years later Bel Air Aviation (around 2006 or 2007) saw the opportunity for the sightseeing tours and started doing it. The problem had just moved to another place.

Québec bush flying

Image courtesy of le Nouvellist

This time D.O.T. did not want to make the same mistake because they were faced with law suit from the other companies. So they pushed the problem into the hands of the town; result, a class action suit for 50,000,000.00 dollars from the residents. One company closed, the town insurances settled with the resident association for 275,000.00 dollars, leaving Bel Air aviation to fight alone against the lawsuit. They have spent over 400,000.00 dollars in lawyer fees over the past 5 to 6 years and the case has not yet gone to court.

Lac a la Tortue (bel air) is the biggest maintenance center in Eastern Canada. All of those people complaining knew when they bought land, or chalet, or houses that there are seaplanes operating on these lakes, but today it is the same everywhere, “DO whatever you want BUT NOT in my backyard period. Even if you were here before me.”

I retired last fall after 43 years of fabulous bush flying. I am one of the Lucky ones who happened to enjoy the 70’s 80’s and part of the 90’s; those were the good years for bush flying in Québec. It saddens me to think about the Young pilots wanting to fly seaplanes that have no future around here. They will have to go out West to make a good career out of bush flying.

In the 80’s I use to put in around 600 to 700 hours every summer, for the last 10 years the best I did was 150hrs. I am proud to have been a part of history.

Written by Claude Larose

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