Thunder Bay·Audio

First Nations power project trainees get chopper training

The students learned how to operate in and around moving helicopters, said Mark Wiskemann, whose company, Wisk Air, provided the training. They also learned external load slinging.

Students will need to work around helicopters as they stand towers and string lines, Supercom spokesman said

Wiskair Helicopters offered helicopter rides to delegates at the Regional Energy Conference in Thunder Bay, Ont., this week. It also trained several First Nations students to work around helicopters. (Heather Kitching/CBC)

Some First Nations students training for jobs on the East West Tie Transmission Project got a bonus class this week:  how to work around helicopters.

Wiskair Helicopters offered the training free of charge in conjunction with a conference on First Nations power project partnerships at the NorWester Hotel.

The students are part of a program run by SuperCom, a First Nations-owned partnership whose goal is to maximize economic spin-off for participating First Nations from the East West Tie.

"They'll be using helicopters to actually stand the towers up where they can't get traditional cranes to, and they'll be using helicopters to string the lines," explained SuperCom project administrator Robert Starr.

The opportunity to provide the training was "phenomenal," he added.

Mitchell DesGroselliers, left, and Herb McWatch, right, took part in the helicopter training at the NorWester hotel. (Heather Kitching/CBC)

"It speaks volumes to the validity of what we're doing that a partner organization like say Wiskair believes in what we're doing. ... And that they're willing to donate their expertise and their time ... to get our guys even more employable."

Wiskair president Mark Wiskemann said the company anticipates working on the East West Tie, and donating training ensures the company will have the staff it needs to do the work.

The students learned how to operate in and around moving helicopters, Wiskemann said.  They also learned "external load slinging," which involves understanding the aerodynamics of different loads in order to design them to fly correctly.  

"They did really great," he said of the first group of trainees.

Student Mitchell DesGroselliers said he was looking forward to earning the qualifications through SuperCom that would help him land stable employment; student Herb McWatch said he sees the training as a chance to be part of history for Indigenous communities.   

"It's a chance to establish a strong legacy for others to follow," he said.