SLEMON PARK - Seeing the Island by air will soon be an experience available to residents and tourists on a regular basis.
Robert Thorne, president and operations manager of Heli-Flight Ltd., is setting up shop at Slemon Park and will be offering helicopter tours of Prince Edward Island.
Thorne came to the Island with a twofold plan. The tours are one part but the company is also offering helicopter flight training.
“Most of our clients are from all over the country and they come here and they mainly do commercial pilots licences,” Thorne said. “They do advanced flight training and we also offer helicopter tours.”
Helicopter tours of P.E.I. are something that have never been offered in the past and Thorne hopes it will be a hit with tourists.
“We‘re going to experiment with it and see how popular the helicopter tours will be,” he said. “Our helicopters have four seats, one for the pilot and three for passengers.”
Thorne said Heli-Flight Ltd. Flies the Robinson R44 helicopter which is recognized as one of the safest single engine helicopters in the world.
“We did some helicopter tours from the Bay of Fundy last year and it was fairly successful,” he said. “We had a fairly difficult time finding a location to operate from on the Fundy coast. We’re looking for a place that has better access and the airport here is perfect. Summerside is a good location. We decided to focus everything here in Summerside.”
Thorne said he was going to try and offer helicopter rides at certain community events this year, but didn’t have enough time to establish the service and figure out what areas would be appropriate for that.
“Our main office is in Fredericton but we may be relocating it here to the Island if we’re successful,” he said.
Thorne has been flying for 35 years and began his company in 2010. He started in Grand Prairie, Alberta, and still has a base there.
“The climate here, the beauty of the area, I wanted to develop the helicopter tours and I thought the Maritimes and P.E.I. would be the best place,” he said. “More tourists come here and they’re looking for exciting things to do. I though this might be a good fit for the Island.”
Shawn McCarvill, president of Slemon Park Corporation said Heli-Fligjht Ltd is a welcome addition to the aerospace industry site.
“It’s tremendous,” McCarvill said. “It’s been our first new aerospace tenant in almost a decade. We’ve been looking to have some kind of a pilot training facility for the last couple of years.”
McCarville said having Thorne at Slemon Park opens even more possibilities at the aerospace centre.
“We’ve identified that we’d like to get into the unmanned systems (remotely controlled machines used for aerial, terrestrial, and aquatic systems) world,” he said. “There’s a connection there that he may be able to provide general ground school for that kind of technology if that ever develops. It’s great to have both the pilot training as well as the charter business.”