Whistler Air purchased by largest all-seaplane airline, Harbour Air 

Former owner planning new aviation venture

click to enlarge FILE PHOTO - taking flight Whistler Air owner Mike Quinn has sold his company's assets and name to Harbour Air.
  • file photo
  • taking flight Whistler Air owner Mike Quinn has sold his company's assets and name to Harbour Air.

The company that bills itself as the largest all-seaplane airline in the world just got a bit bigger.

Harbour Air has purchased Whistler Air.

Mike Quinn said he sold the assets of Whistler Air and the rights to the name.

"I didn't have the business up for sale or anything," said Quinn. "They came to me."

He said the numbers were right and, because he is now 60 years old, the timing was right.

Quinn said he is completely removed from the operation, but he intends to launch a new aviation venture soon, though it will be small. At one time Whistler Air included two helicopters though they were sold as the company focused on its floatplane operations. An announcement on his next venture, which may include helicopter service, will be made soon, said Quinn.

At the height of the summer, Quinn said Whistler Air employs 10 or 11 people.

Started in 1985 Whistler Air at that time had just a three-passenger Cessna 185. In 1988 and he added a DeHavilland Beaver to his fleet. Whistler Air's floating log home office on Green Lake was built in 1994 in front of the Nicklaus North Golf Course clubhouse and in the same year a second Beaver was added to the fleet. Quinn added a 12-passenger turbine Otter to the inventory in 1999. Whistler Air currently operates with the two DeHaviland Beavers and the Otter.

Quinn made sure his airline went one step beyond most others by offering commentary about the history and geology of the area to tourists on the Whistler Air flights — an extra level of service, he said.

During times of crisis the company offered emergency flights. In 2003 more than 400 people were flown out of Whistler after Highway 99 was closed in both directions by floodwaters for three days.

Randy Wright, Harbour Air's executive vice president of corporate business development, said his company plans to operate Whistler Air much as it has operated in the past, and that means for this year Whistler Air's employees can expect what he called the "status quo."

Over time Harbour Air will integrate overlapping operations into Whistler Air's existing systems. Wright said reservations, accounting, maintenance and safety would all roll into Harbour Air's systems over time.

"There's lots of opportunity for us and we're very excited coming into Whistler," said Wright from Whistler's floatplane dock on Green Lake. "It's a great tourism market and we would hope to do partnerships with Rocky Mountain Tours. We already do work with them now."

Wright said his company's purchase of Whistler Air means direct flights will be offered between Whistler and Victoria in addition to the regular flights offered between Whistler and Vancouver.

Wright also pointed out that Harbour Air's owner and CEO, Greg McDougall, is a Sea to Sky resident.

McDougall and Quinn worked together when seaplane operators were being pressured to use a new private terminal in Vancouver built by the Ledcor Group of Companies. Small aviation companies that dock in the Coal Harbour area resisted moving to the $22 million facility and Quinn said issues relating to docking in Vancouver are ongoing and unresolved.

Last year he said that moving to the new terminal would mean he would have to add another $12 to the cost of a ticket for his customers. He refused to make the move and inflate the price of his flights.

Harbour Air, West Coast Air, Seair Seaplanes, Tofino Air, Saltspring Air, Tyax Air, Kenmore Air and Whistler Air banded together to form the Vancouver Commercial Seaplane Operators' Association to oppose any move to force the operators to use the Ledcor facility and face increased costs.

Long before the docking dispute, one of Quinn's highlights with Whistler Air was a contract job with Adventure Network International. Quinn and pilot Trevor Syrowy flew to Antarctica for a job that involved flying people to the South Pole.

"It is a very, very windy place," Quinn said back in 2003 in an interview with Pique.

He said his plane made about 10 tourist trips to the South Pole for people who were willing to pay the $25,000.

"People get off and get their photographs taken around the ceremonial 'South Pole' that is there," Quinn said at the time.

He noted that there was a gift shop and people could buy T-shirts and hats.

Quinn hopes Harbour Air continues to maintain his old company's focus on tourism.

"They are a class act," Quinn said. "They clearly have the economies of scale that I didn't. I think it is nothing but good news for the community."


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