CHC Helicopter Corporation
CHC Helicopter Corporation
Incorporated: 1975 as Sealand Helicopters Ltd.
Sales: CAD 733.65 million ($535.2 million) (2004)
Stock Exchanges: Toronto New York
Ticker Symbols: FLY.A FLY.B; FLI
NAIC: 481211 Nonscheduled Chartered Passenger Air Transportation; 481212 Nonscheduled Chartered Freight Air Transportation; 621910 Ambulance Services
CHC Helicopter Corporation is the largest provider of helicopter support to the world's offshore oil industry. It operates in more than 30 countries and has a fleet of 160 helicopters. Its chief business is flying workers and supplies to offshore oilrigs. CHC also conducts air ambulance services and performs maintenance and overhaul work and flight training.
CHC Helicopter Corporation was created in 1987 when three Canadian helicopter firms combined their operations. Craig Dobbin, owner of Sealand Helicopters Ltd., became the new firm's chief executive officer.
A Newfoundland real estate developer, Dobbin had acquired a helicopter to take him to his remote fishing lodge (a place where Dobbin would entertain dignitaries such as U.S. President George H.W. Bush and Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney). He later told the Financial Post it cost CAD 85,000 to buy the helicopter and the same amount each year to operate it. Dobbin decided to hire the aircraft out, forming Sealand Helicopters Ltd. in December 1975.
Sealand soon won a five-year contract to supply Newfoundland's air ambulance service. Mobil Oil Canada Ltd.'s exploration of the Hibernia oilfield provided another impetus for early growth. The fleet was expanded by a third to 38 aircraft. (Dobbin also formed an engineering firm to support the energy industry.)
Dobbin began gathering helicopter companies to help Sealand survive through an industry downturn. In the early 1980s, Toronto Helicopters Ltd., which provided air ambulance and forestry-related services, was acquired in a leveraged buyout.
Laden with debt, Dobbin then went after the industry leader. Vancouver's Okanagan Helicopters Ltd. had been founded in 1947 in the pioneering days of rotary wing flight. Once publicly traded, in 1982 the company was acquired by Calgary's Resource Service Group Ltd. Revenues were CAD 70.9 million in 1986, when operations stretched across Canada and as far abroad as Turkey and New Zealand. Okanagan had 561 employees and 125 helicopters before the merger.
The combined operation had revenues of about $118 million a year. It had 162 aircraft, 230 pilots, and 750 employees altogether. Principal owners of the company included Dobbin and the United Kingdom's Bristow Helicopter Group Ltd., the world's largest commercial helicopter operator. Bristow had acquired a 49 percent holding in Okanagan a couple years earlier.
Public in 1987
CHC acquired two more firms in 1987, fuel distributor Aero Flight Holdings Ltd. and Offshore Helicopter Technologies Ltd., which was developing a flight simulator facility in St. John's. CHC's shares began trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange in August of that year, raising CAD 44 million in the initial public offering (IPO). (This financed the Okanagan acquisition.) It was, noted the Financial Post, the market's last IPO before the crash of October 1987. CHC was Canada's largest helicopter firm and the third largest in the world, reported Toronto's Financial Post.
CHC acquired Ranger Helicopters Canada, a geology specialist, in April 1988 for CAD 9.7 million. Ranger had briefly operated an airport shuttle in Toronto. Close rival Viking Helicopters Ltd. was taken over in April 1989. Viking operated a fleet of five dozen helicopters centered in Quebec. Annual revenues were about $20 million.
European Expansion in the 1990s
By 1990 CHC had a fleet of 256 aircraft operating in 16 countries. In June of that year it announced a joint venture with Irish aircraft leasing giant GPA Group PLC.
CHC acquired 40 percent of the voting shares of British International Helicopters Ltd. (BIH) in 1993. BIH, also called Brintel, was based in Aberdeen, Scotland, and dated back to 1947. It operated 20 large twin-engine helicopters and had revenues of about CAD 100 million a year. CHC's shareholding was raised to 90 percent within a year.
The Brintel acquisition made CHC second only to Norway's Helikopter Services Group AS among helicopter operators. The company had 1,600 employees and a fleet of 250 rotary wing aircraft. In December 1994 CHC had promoted a new president and CEO from within, Rudy Palladina, while Dobbin remained chairman and the largest shareholder. (Dobbin, diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, moved to the United States for a few years to seek a lung transplant.)
Norway's Helikopter Services Group (HSG) unsuccessfully challenged CHC's right to acquire a European Community company. Dobbin had earlier become a national of Ireland on the strength of his historic ties to the country (and an endowment to the University of Dublin). HSG took a significant swipe at CHC in 1995 when it wrested away a contract to service the Hibernia oil platform.
Repair and Overhaul Focus in the Late 1990s
Repair and overhaul contributed more than a third of revenues in 1997. This work was performed at two subsidiaries, Atlantic Turbines Inc. on Prince Edward Island and Acro Aerospace in British Columbia.
CHC aimed to expand the repair side of the business since it was less cyclical than helicopter operations. In 1998 the company bought Hunting Airmotive in southern England for CAD 60 million.
The engine overhaul business was spun off in June 1998 as Vector Aerospace Corp. in a CAD 300 million IPO. CHC sold off its remaining 20 percent stake in September 1999.
CHC's revenues were CAD 354 million in 1998. The company had 200 aircraft operating from 69 bases across the globe. A new CAD 22.5 million, 60,000-square-foot aerospace composites fabrication plant opened in August 1999 in Gander, Newfoundland.
Number One in 1999
Years of cutthroat competition between the big three of CHC, HSG, and Offshore Logistics Inc. of the United States made the field ripe for consolidation. CHC was able to acquire HSG itself for CAD 206 million in 1999. The HSG buy, conducted through CHC's Vinland Helicopters AS subsidiary, left CHC with a debt of CAD 600 million, noted Canadian Business, and this was a significant priority. The purchase made CHC the world's largest helicopter firm, with a combined fleet of 370 aircraft and 3,000 employees. More than three quarters of revenues (CAD 554 million in fiscal 2000) came from outside Canada; the U.S. market was relatively untapped.
Dobbin's favorite part of entrepreneurship was building companies, noted a March 2000 profile in the National Post. He started a Newfoundland-Nova Scotia executive charter service called Touch Down Aviation. He established the Newfoundland commuter airline Air Atlantic Ltd. 15 years earlier.
Demand for energy resulted in more offshore oil and gas exploration, generating more business for CHC. CHC was active across the globe as it picked up new oilfield contracts in Malaysia and India. CHC also was providing search and rescue helicopters for the Royal Australian Air Force.
On the Big Board in 2004
In February 2004, CHC acquired Schreiner Aviation Group of The Netherlands in a deal worth EUR 87 million (CAD 144 million). Schreiner provided support for the offshore oil industry in Europe, Africa, and Asia with a fleet of about 50 rotary and fixed wing aircraft.
Our customers want one consistent standard of safety and service around the globe. Our shareholders expect CHC to continue to create exceptional value. We will do both.
Craig Dobbin forms Sealand Helicopters with one aircraft.
Sealand is combined with Okanagan and Toronto Helicopters to form CHC; the company makes its initial public offering.
CHC acquires control of British International Helicopters.
Norway's Helikopter Services Group (HSG) is acquired.
CHC lists shares on the New York Stock Exchange; the company moves its headquarters to Vancouver.
CHC agreed to acquire a majority holding in Aero Turbine Support Ltd. in September 2004, expanding CHC's repair and overhaul business. Aero Turbine was based in Langley, British Columbia, and specialized in maintaining General Electric CT58/T58 and Pratt & Whitney PT6T engines.
CHC's shares began trading on the New York Stock Exchange on October 11, 2004. The company was already listed in Toronto. CHC moved its main offices cross country from St. John's, Newfoundland, to Vancouver, British Columbia, in 2004. Dobbin had earlier told the Financial Post he expected CHC to have annual revenues of CAD 1 billion around 2007.
CHC Helicopters International Inc.; CHC Helicopters (Barbados) Limited; CHC Leasing (Barbados) Limited; CHC Capital (Barbados) Limited; Canadian Helicopters (UK) Limited (Scotland); CHC Scotia Limited (England and Wales); Vinland Denmark A.S.; Vinland Helicopters A.S. (Norway); Helikopter Services Group A.S. (Norway); CHC Helikopter Service A.S. (Norway); Astec Helicopter Services A.S. (Norway); Heliwest A.S. (Norway); Lloyd Helicopter Services Pty. Ltd. (Australia); CHC Helicopters (Africa) Pty. Ltd.; Court Helicopters Limited (Mauritius); CHC Composites Inc.; CHC Denmark ApS (Denmark); CHC Ireland Limited; Brintel Holdings Limited (Scotland); 4083423 Canada Inc.; CHC Netherlands B.V.; CHC Sweden AB; Schreiner Luchtvaart Groep B.V. (Netherlands); Schreiner North Sea Helicopters B.V. (Netherlands); Schreiner Airways, B.V. (Netherlands); Schreiner Aircraft Maintenance Company B.V. (Netherlands); Schreiner & Co., B.V. (Netherlands); Schreiner Chad; Whirly Bird Services Limited (U.K.).
Helicopter Operations; Repair and Overhaul; Composites; Flight Training.
Principal Operating Units
CHC Global Support; CHC Global Operations; CHC Europe.
Offshore Logistics, Inc.
"Aberdeen's Offshore Oil and Gas Workers Take the High Road to Work," Business a.m. (Scotland), September 3, 2001.
Blackwell, Richard, "No. 1 Domestic Helicopter Firm Buys Rival, Raises Market Share," Financial Post (Toronto), April 7, 1989, p. 21.
—, "Oil Action Could Lift CHC Helicopter," Financial Post (Toronto), May 16, 1988, p. 27.
"CHC Helicopter Sells Remaining Stake in Vector Aerospace," National Post, September 24, 1999, p. C2.
"CHC Helicopter's Norwegian Deal to Go Through," National Post, August 3, 1999, p. C7.
Daw, James, "Three Big Helicopter Operators to Join Forces Under New Name," Toronto Star, July 8, 1987, p. F3.
Fitzpatrick, Peter, "CHC Buys Air Service Unit of Britain's Hunting," Financial Post, March 17, 1998, p. 6.
—, "CHC Chief Quits Over Moves to Boost Stock," Financial Post, April 2, 1998, p. 5.
—, "CHC Gets Access to Gulf of Mexico," Financial Post (Toronto), October 9, 1997, p. 6.
—, "CHC Reaches Deal with Regulator," Financial Post (Toronto), October 15, 1997, p. 13.
Flanagan, Chris, "Birdman of Newfoundland," Canadian Business, August 27, 1999, p. 55.
Francis, Diane, "The Tiny Helicopter Firm That Took Off: Dobbin's CHC Joins the Wall Street Elite," Financial Post (Canada), October 12, 2002, p. 1.
"Gander Gets Aerospace Plant; CHC Helicopters Creating 250 Jobs at New Facility," Toronto Star, July 24, 1998, p. E5.
Hunter, Dough, "Helicopter Firm Harkens Back," Financial Post (Toronto), May 4, 1987.
Jones, Deborah, "CHC Helicopters on Aggressive Course," Financial Post (Toronto), February 20, 1993, p. S31.
MacDonald, Michael, "CHC Helicopter OKs Controversial Stock Options Plan," National Post's Financial Post & FP Investing (Canada), September 27, 2002, p. FP9.
MacNamara, Kate, "The Builder: Craig Dobbin Tells Kate MacNamara How He Became the Copter King," National Post Business, July 2001, p. 27.
McQueen, Rod, "Will Debt-Laden CHC Helicopter Take Off?," Financial Post (Toronto), June 21, 1995, p. 27.
Moulton, Donalee, "He's Not Flying by the Seat of His Pants," National Post, March 15, 2000, p. E1.
Newman, Peter C., "Two Dramatic Tales of Personal Survival," Maclean's, February 15, 1999, p. 48.
Roche, Pat, "Flying High on Newfoundland's Promise," Maclean's, February 17, 1986, p. 28.
Rojo, Oscar, "CHC Flies High with Irish Giant," Toronto Star, June 15, 1990, p. F7.
—, "CHC Flies on Board U.K. Firm," Toronto Star, January 28, 1993, p. C8.
—, "CHC Helicopter Takes U.K. Firm Under Its Wing," Toronto Star, January 8, 1994, p. E7.
—, "Helicopter Firm Is Taking Time to Get Airborne," Toronto Star, February 8, 1988, p. E7.
Shinkle, Kirk, "The High Seas Produce High Returns Here," Investor's Business Daily, October 31, 2002, p. A14.
Stone, Cynthia, "Sky-High Aspirations," Canadian Business, April 1989, pp. 25+.
Warwick, Graham, "CHC Helicopter Reorganises," Flight International, September 21, 2004, p. 26.
Westell, Dan, "CHC Helicopter Faces Court Challenge," Financial Post (Toronto), December 12, 1996, p. 7.
—Frederick C. Ingram