Title: Provincial Aerospace: flying out of the box!

Sub-title: This Eastern Canadian provider of maritime patrol, aerial surveillance and search and rescue capabilities has quietly become a global player.


While Canadian governments have almost all made significant efforts over the years to spread military deployments and spending equitably across the land, it is an open secret that key decisions are invariably made in central Canada. As a result, defence sectors players have learned to be visible there, particularly in Ottawa. That way, they can be well positioned when new procurement contracts, and more particularly, the industrial and regional benefits (IRB) work that spins off from US purchases, are handed out.


However according to Brian Chafe, Chief Operating Officer of Provincial Aerospace Limited (PAL), which operates in 30 countries worldwide, the company he heads has managed to do quite well, by not playing that game. “We grew from 300 employees to 800 during the last few years by focusing on innovation,” said Chafe. “There is no innovation in IRB work. So we have never sought it out, and have no plans right now to accept any.”


In layman’s terms, Provincial Aerospace’s core business boils down providing customers, (whether they be Canadian or foreign governments or businesses) with maritime patrol, aerial surveillance and search and rescue capabilities. These include special missions operations and alternate service delivery (ASD), aircraft modification, Tier one integration, as well as integrated logistics and support (ILS) training.


Patrolling Canada’s waters

Provincial Aerospace, (which is known mostly to the general public for its ownership of Provincial Airlines, an Eastern Canada-based regional carrier) in many ways began its rapid penetration into the defence market 20 years ago.


In 1990 the company began conducting maritime patrol work for Fisheries and Oceans Canada, in areas where military assets were not needed. Over the years these patrols have encompassed a variety of missions, including coastal and pollution control, spotting icebergs, search and rescue operations, identifying foreign vessels in Canadian waters, fisheries surveillance and enforcement and so on. According to Chafe, one the program’s unique features is the design innovations and next generation technologies that Provincial Aerospace has incorporated into its aircraft.


Today, the company provides the Canadian government a complete turn-key service, using primarily four Beechcraft King Air B200 aircraft, which are based at St. John’s, Halifax and Comox. “We are on the job 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. We never sleep,” says Chafe, with a chuckle. “We take our unprecedented reliability record very seriously. We provide 2,000 aircraft hours per year and have delivered a 99 percent on-time performance record and a 98 percent dispatch reliability.” An even bigger vote of confidence came from Fisheries and Oceans Canada itself, which last January awarded Provincial Aerospace a $75 million five-year contract extension deal.


That said, Chafe stresses that system configurations for work Provincial Aerospace does for Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Department of National Defence are by no means off-the-shelf offerings. “We are platform independent and tailor our solutions to the needs of the client.” For example Provincial Aerospace installs equipment suites that range from avionics systems to full-blown maritime surveillance equipment. These include features such as 360º maritime radars, forward looking infrared systems, night vision and photography capabilities, anti-submarine acoustic systems, signals intelligence and so on, all once again, depending on client needs. However as any military expert knows, collecting the data is only half the battle. That information also needs to be managed and distributed. To do that Provincial Aerospace also supplies communications and data acquisition and management systems.


A Tier One systems integrator

In fact, Provincial Aerospace’s special missions and ASD capabilities are impressive by any standard. The company owns and operates a fleet of 10 maritime patrol aircraft (including the four Beechcraft King Airs) and UAVs, which it uses to service its military, government and industrial clientele worldwide. Not surprisingly though, like many Canadian companies, Provincial Aerospace’s growing list of accomplishments in its work for government here, set the stage for even more successes overseas.


For example early last year, PAL announced that it had inked a $370 million deal to supply system modifications to two Bombardier Dash-8 Q300 aircraft for the United Arab Emirates Armed Forces. PAL’s win of the contract (whose value has since then increased to more than $400 million), against heavy competition from some of the world’s largest aerospace and defence companies raised eyebrows among some insiders.


“They (the UAE) said that they chose us in large part because of our existing client base and past accomplishments,” says Chafe. Over the years, Provincial Aerospace has modified more than 30 aircraft and has designed, developed and delivered, more than 40 tactical data systems, which are staffed by experienced sensor operators, systems and software engineers. Provincial Aerospace also designed a proprietary Asynchronous Data Acquisition and Management (ADAM) System, which is now in its eighth version. ADAM includes real time mapping, in-flight mission management and data collection and also handles post flight reporting and archiving. “The UAE Armed Forces realized that in addition to running a regional airline, we also own a fleet of patrol aircraft and have done so for many years,” notes Chase. “They thus knew that we have the knowledge-base, infrastructure and support capabilities to supply them with a turn-key solution.”


In fact the UAE contract is providing Provincial Aerospace with an opportunity to showcase its substantial aircraft modification and Tier One integration capabilities, in a part of the world (the Persian Gulf), where these are needed more than ever. “We are the prime on this contract,” says Chafe proudly. “As such we are taking the lead role in integrating equipment from a variety of providers, including Thales, Elecctonica, Rohde & Schwartz, Honeywell, Saab Systems and FLIR Systems, into our overall solution.”


Keith Stoodley, Provincial Aerospace’s senior vice-president (business development and government relations) notes that the company’s existing talent pool of 100 pilots also proved a great asset on the UAE deal, which had a significant training component, which the company is well equipped to handle. 


Provincial Aerospace’s training division, which is located in Halifax Nova Scotia and staffed by former Canadian Armed Forces trainers, provides comprehensive instruction for a variety of professionals, such as sensor operators, pilots, observers, and mission management crew. Clients have included personnel from the US State Department, the Mexican Ministry of Defence, the Irish Air Corps and many others. “We have between 30 and 40 UAE pilots over here right now that we are teaching how to use their new systems,” explains Stoodley. “When training is complete, the country will have a good talent pool that will form the basis of an exceptional independent capability.”


Stoodley proudly defends Provincial Aerospace’s turn key approach. “The professors say that companies are supposed to specialize in core capabilities,” explains Stoodley. “However our clients are mostly looking for end-to-end solutions and that is what we provide. For example if a client wants maritime patrol services, we can provide them the aircraft, we can operate them, we can provide the logistics support and we can train their own people how to use all of that stuff. The key is flexibility.”


Integrated logistics support

One important offshoot from the Provincial Aerospace’s presence around the world, such as its ten-year contract to provide air reconnaissance services for the Netherlands Ministry of Defence in the Dutch Antilles, is the in-house integrated logistics support capabilities that the company has built up. In addition to Provincial Aerospace’s impressive training capabilities, these include the ability to provide provisioning, field service software support, engineering, ground support equipment, aircraft ferrying and so on.


The big question though, is what, having accomplished so much, could a company like Provincial Aerospace possibly hope to strive for in the future? One possible answer lies in Canada’s North, where the country is under increasing pressure to exert its sovereignty. “With the vast experience that we have acquired over the years working in tough weather conditions, we definitely could see a role for ourselves in any Arctic patrol work that needs to be done,” says Chafe.  “In fact we envision possible new expansions in most of our areas of expertise, particularly alternate service delivery, unmanned aerial vehicles, maritime surveillance, tactical data management and information sharing systems.”


However innovation will also continue to be a key theme. “Our company has been associated with a series of firsts,” said Chafe. “We were the first company to launch a commercial UAV flight in  Canadian aerospace, the first company to use pulse compressed digital anti-submarine warfare radar, the first to supply a state of the art night-time flash vehicle identification system, the first owner operator of the FLIR Start Safire series gyro-stabilized forward looking infrared system and testing platform, as well as many other firsts. Hopefully during coming years, we can add to that list.”


Company snapshot


Name: Provincial Aerospace Ltd. (PAL)

Key contacts: Keith Stoodley, Senior Vice-President Business Development & Government Relations)

Phone: 709-576-3086

Web-site: http://www.provincialaerospace.com/

Locations: Domestic bases in St. John’s and Goose Bay, Newfoundland and Labrador; Halifax, Nova Scotia; and Comox, British Columbia. International bases in Curacao, Netherlands Antilles; Christchurch, Barbados; Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago; Colombia; and Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  

Services: Special missions operations, aircraft modification and integration, mission systems integration, integrated logistics support and training, and research and development.

Number of employees: 800

Sales: Private company






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