Saskatoon

Loss of northern Sask. charter aircraft company expected to affect many sectors

Osprey Wings Ltd., which has the largest fleet of float planes in Saskatchewan, has ceased operations.

Osprey Wings Ltd. shutting down after more than 50 years in business

Osprey Wings Ltd. has the largest fleet of float planes in Saskatchewan. (Osprey Wings Ltd.)

A major charter aircraft company in northern Saskatchewan has halted operations.

Allison Thompson with Osprey Wings Ltd. confirmed to CBC News that it has shut down operations because the owners are aging, but are hoping someone will take over servicing the area.

The family-owned company has been listed for sale. According to an online listing in Colliers, it has the largest fleet of float planes in Saskatchewan.

The fleet is made up of De Havilland Beavers, Turbo Otters and Twin Otters, utilizing float and ski configurations.

Osprey Wings had been in business for more than 50 years and has bases in Missinipe, La Ronge and Points North Landing.

Among other clients, its fleet of nine aircraft serviced the tourism, mining, fire suppression and public service sectors.

Outfitter worries about impact of loss of company

Ric Driediger, the owner of Churchill River Canoe Outfitters in Missinipe, said many camps in the north depend on Osprey Wings — and if a replacement isn't found, it will have a huge impact on many businesses in the region.

"There's lots and lots of businesses that are going to go under if there's no float plane company there," he said. "Like a lot of the fishing camps, they don't have another option.

"It's a big thing we're losing. It's not just a little float plane company. It's a big, big thing and so many businesses and so many industries rely on them."

Driediger expects his company will survive, but said it will make a "huge, huge difference" in which canoe trips they are able to run.

He also said Osprey Wings was used an "awful lot" in wildfire season to monitor fires.

"Who's going to monitor those fires?" he asked. "Who's going to do that kind of work that the provincial government relies on?"

Osprey Wings Ltd. has nine aircraft in its fleet, including five De Havilland Single Otters. (Osprey Wings Ltd.)

CBC News asked the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency (SPSA) for a response to the news Osprey Wings has shut down.

In a statement, a spokesperson said the SPSA works with external air transportation services in remote areas of the province and should one of those services no longer be available, the SPSA will look for alternative measures and other resources to fill the gap.

Pam Schwann, the president of the Saskatchewan Mining Association, said Osprey Wings has been a big part of the mineral exploration and mining industry in the province.

Schwann said there are very few roads in the areas of northern Saskatchewan where exploration is taking place, and the only way to get to many of the locations has been on float planes in the summer or planes with skis in the winter.

"With no one ready to take it over and change the floats to skis, it will put a fair bit of pressure on the exploration companies who may have been just assuming that it was normal business operations and planning to use planes out of Missinipe or Points North for their winter programs," she said.

Mineral exploration companies have been using Osprey Wings Ltd. aircraft on skis for their winter programs. (Osprey Wings Ltd.)

She said that without a viable operation in either of those locations, clients will be looking at increased costs because of the longer distances they would be flying or from using helicopters.

"When you're moving your camps in or out, or your people in or out, or getting your grocery runs in, they were a really big part of the whole exploration and mining cycle out of the base of Missinipe," she said.

Schwann said there are other companies with float planes in places like La Ronge and Buffalo Narrows, but with Osprey Wings out of the picture, clients' options are limited.

"It really limits not just the locations, but the types of planes. Because the planes that Osprey had were really a lot of the workhorses of the north — the Beavers, the Otters, the Twin Otters," she said. "Those are the types of planes that could safely carry big cargo around — and not every flight operation would have that."

Sad farewell

Beyond the implications for the mining sector, Schwann said she was sad to learn the news about Osprey Wings and their owners, Garry and Bonnie Thompson.

"It was mixed emotions of a little disbelief and sadness," she said. "But also knowing that they've been in the business for a long time and at some point everybody needs to retire.

"I would just like to thank the family for a lot of years of very good, safe, reliable service. That meant a lot to know if you're out someplace that you'd hear that the plane is coming to get you.

"You always had that confidence with Osprey Wings."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kelly Provost

Journalist

Kelly Provost is a newsreader and reporter with CBC News in Saskatoon. He covers sports, northern and land-based topics among general news. He has also worked as a news director in northern Saskatchewan, covering Indigenous issues for over 20 years. Email him at kelly.provost@cbc.ca.

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