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Lloydminster – His born and bred Australian accent comes through quickly, but Ross Schmidt now calls Lloydminster home. He’s a helicopter pilot and base manager for Provincial Helicopters.

The company relocated its operations from Meadow Lake to Lloydminster. They also have a base at Lac de Bonnet, Manitoba.

“We ran into a lot of headache building in Meadow Lake,” he said. “We were coming up to freeze-up, and we just couldn’t get anything built in time.”

It’s very important to keep helicopters warm in the winter, and thus adequate hanger space was a must.

Lloydminster was a better location for fires, and being on the border, provided better opportunities on both sides of the line. The helicopter industry is notorious for difficulties in keeping good staff, and Lloydminster was more attractive location in that regard.

“All of our guys are on year-round,” he said. With a slow-down in the industry, keeping pilots on rosters working on a fly-in, fly-out basis is becoming less common.

The company has five pilots and five aircraft. Two are Jet Ranger 206s. There are two Long Rangers, and one Bell 205, sometimes referred to as a single Huey for its single engine.

The business varies from year to year. “We used to do a lot of seismic work and a lot of drill moves for zero impact drilling.

“Everything’s flown in. You can’t access it by road for whatever reason. It’s all sample drilling.”

Asked about activity, right now he said, “Everything’s slowing down. Guys stopped spending money until things turn around again.”

Therefore the company has moved into fighting fires and treeplanting. That includes areas north of Meadow Lake and around Prince Albert. They go in when the muskeg is still frozen.

As such, they’re still looking at a satellite location at Meadow Lake.

“We did a little bit of seismic last year, exploration near Buffalo Narrows.”

Schmidt said, “Lloydminster’s never had a helicopter business here, from what we’ve been told.”

The Australian is 29 years old. He’s personally been flying for seven years. He started flying one of the smallest helicopters on the market, the Robinson R22, for herding cattle in northeast Australia. He got his wings in 2009. He has a fixed wing pilot before, and was an airframe mechanic in Australia. He’s certified to fly the Bell 206, Robinson R22 and R44.  

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