Helicopter Services Across Canada

The very first BO-105 helicopters delivered to the Maritimes Region for evaluation.

Air transportation services, particularly services provided by helicopters, are a key element in the CCG's readiness profile and response capability.

The Canadian Coast Guard supports its aviation service requirements by utilizing its own fleet of 22 rotary wing aircraft across Canada. These aircraft are strategically located at eleven bases within the five DFO regions.

A Bell 212 Helicopter hovers over a typical coastal shoreline of Canada

Roughly 7 million Canadians live in coastal areas, where many people in smaller communities depend of the oceans' resources and tourism to make a living. In order to protect and serve these Canadians, the Coast Guard must rely on its air transportation services to respond to the challenges of this rugged and harsh environment.

Why Does the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) Need Helicopters?

Helicopters in the CCG support all its government-wide, mission-critical program responsibilities:

  • ensuring the safety of marine traffic, which has two components - Marine Navigation Services (MNS) and Marine Communication and Traffic Services (MCTS);
  • Icebreaking;
  • Environmental Response; and,
  • assists in Search and Rescue (SAR).

The CCG's ability to ensure the safety of marine traffic, a year-round responsibility, would be nearly impossible without helicopters. The overwhelming majority of flying hours logged by helicopters, approximately 65% of the CCG total, is devoted to supporting this responsibility. Icebreaking operations consume the next largest block of flying hours — about 15% of the CCG total. The balance, about 20% of CCG helicopter flying hours, is distributed among its other responsibilities to CCG programs and other government departments.

Overall Concept of Operations

While the bases from which the CCG's helicopters operate are easily accessed by good roads, the equipment that Coast Guard Technical Services personnel must maintain from these bases is often not. Much of it is on remote Canadian shorelines or on islands, and only accessible by helicopters or helicopter/ship combinations.

The unwatched towers, complete with batteries, solar panels, lights, radio beacons and repeaters, upon which MNS and MCTS rely to ensure the operational safety of marine traffic, may be on points, promontories or mountain tops that have no roads to them. Usually, there is nothing else at the site but the CCG tower and its ancillary equipment. Inspecting or servicing a tower requires that one or more technicians, their tools and a stock of spare parts and/or construction materials be brought to the site. Even at sites where weather changes and wildlife are not factors, work accidents, must be considered. While a private charter service would want to leave the crew at the site to do its work, the CCG cannot do this. Its helicopter must usually remain with the crew until the work is done.

The ruggedness of Canada's coastline makes access by sea to those towers that are near the shore difficult and potentially dangerous. Surface vessels, which travel at only a few knots but burn significant quantities of fuel while doing so, are not practical when there are hundreds of kilometers of shoreline to cover, as along the St. Lawrence River. Helicopters can cover these distances quickly and they are vastly more fuel efficient.

These factors and consideration underlie the CCG's concept of operations with helicopters. It is a concept driven by the need to:

  • get to locations that are otherwise inaccessible, or that are very difficult and time consuming to access;
  • get to them quickly so that critical services are maintained as close as possible to 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all year;
  • ensure the safety of personnel and the public, both while they are in transit and at the location; and,
  • do all the above at reasonable cost and with minimal resources.

Operating Environment and Challenges for Helicopters

The Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) carries out its responsibilities on a daily basis in some of the most demanding, challenging and severe operational and environmental conditions known:

  • a coastline of unparalleled length and ruggedness;
  • isolated or remote locations that are not accessible by conventional modes of transportation;
  • the sheer harshness of the environment in these locations often disrupts plans and priorities. Scheduled activities may have to be postponed or brought forward as a result of storm damage, and resources redeployed on short notice. Requires a flexible response capability for a successful operation;
  • interruptions and failures of marine aids to navigation, which the CCG is obligated to maintain and service, can have serious commercial, environmental and, for mariners, personal consequences, placing a premium on the ability to respond quickly and restore services;
  • constantly changing weather conditions necessitate a high degree of flexibility. When important missions have to be cancelled or curtailed due to adverse weather, we must be able to respond as soon as conditions improve to meet service targets and obligations;
  • operational requirements for speed and flexibility, both in the tasking of personnel and equipment, implies a degree of uncertainty in the work lives of the CCG's employees. The government's initiatives to foster wellness in the workplace and thereby mitigate the stresses of uncertainty for its employees means they must be supported by equipment that is well matched to the operational requirements of the work they perform; and
  • safety and financial considerations place restrictions on the working hours of technical and construction crews, making it imperative to minimize transit times so that the crew productivity can be maximized.

The CCG has responded to this challenge by assembling a well-trained, experienced and committed workforce, by deploying this workforce at strategically-positioned bases throughout the country, and by supporting it with a diverse and well-maintained fleet of surface, sea and air vehicles. Helicopters and the method in which they are used are an integral and essential component of this fleet.