Hiring takes off as Coulson Aviation expands

Jill Paupst, dock controller, works next to a CH-47D at Coulson Aviation. The Port Alberni-based company has doubled its fleet of aerial firefighting aircraft in the past couple of years. (MIKE YOUDS/ Special to the AV News)
A CH-47D helitanker undergoes modifications in a Coulson Aviation hangar at Alberni Valley Regional Airport. (MIKE YOUDS/ Special to the AV News)
A CH-47D helitanker undergoes modifications in a Coulson Aviation hangar at Alberni Valley Regional Airport. (MIKE YOUDS/ Special to the AV News)
Jill Paupst, dock controller, works next to a CH-47D at Coulson Aviation. The Port Alberni-based company has doubled its fleet of aerial firefighting aircraft in the past couple of years. (MIKE YOUDS/ Special to the AV News)
Mike Huber works on the upper tank for a CH-47 helitanker at Coulson Aviation’s hangar at Alberni Valley Regional Airport. (MIKE YOUDS/ Special to AV News)
A CH-47D helitanker undergoes modifications in a Coulson Aviation hangar at Alberni Valley Regional Airport. (MIKE YOUDS/ Special to the AV News)

BY MIKE YOUDS

Special to the News

Coulson Aviation job postings are popping up online in quick succession as the company expands its operations to meet rapidly rising demand for firefighting aircraft and equipment.

“Temperatures are getting warmer, fires are getting hotter,” said Britton Coulson, co-president of the Port Alberni-based Coulson Group. “There is no slow period anymore.”

The company is hiring at remote operations and locally while awaiting Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District clearance to erect a new, 15,000-20,000 sq. ft. manufacturing plant at its Alberni Valley Regional Airport (AVRA) base.

“Growth in the last two years is almost doubling our fleet size.”

Air tanker contracts have grown bigger for the firm, which operates a fleet of fixed-wing and rotary firefighting aircraft in the U.S. and Australia. They also expanded to Chile last year. In November, they purchased five C-130H transport planes from Norway for modification.

Coulson Aviation announced its latest order at the end of March, a multi-year contract with the U.S. Department of Agriculture for its Next Generation large air tanker services, specifically its modified Boeing 737 Fireliners. The company also won a $50-million contract in November with the U.S. Air Force to install seven retardant aerial delivery systems in C130s. While not the largest order the firm has taken on, the deal represents their largest product contract, Coulson said.

Winter used to be a slower time of year, “catch-up season” for the aviation business, a subsidiary of Coulson Aircrane founded 30 years ago to provide personnel for Alaskan heli-logging. Gradually, they acquired a small fleet of Martin Mars air tankers, C130 Hercules turboprops and 737 Fireliners along with CH-47 and UH60 heli-tankers, modifying aircraft and leasing them for combatting wildfire. The first Fireliner went into service two years ago Down Under. They also manufacture 12,000 to 15,000 aircraft parts per year.

“In general, in the last nine months we’ve hired about 90 more people, about 10 per month,” Coulson said. “In the next three months, we’ve got to hire another 35 to 40 people,” 10 to 15 of them locally.

Never worked in aerospace? That’s not an obstacle for prospective job applicants, said Mike McClellan, the company’s manufacturing manager.

“We are hiring on attitude and aptitude,” McLellan said, adding that they are prepared to provide on-the-job training. “Of the 40 we need to hire, 10 are in manufacturing. Want to work with your hands? Want to stay in Port Alberni? There are great opportunities here.”

The company currently employs about 250 people.

Coulson AviationPort Alberni

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