Holy Helipads, Batman!

CBRM waterfront helipad plans.

CBRM waterfront helipad plans.

What, exactly, is the advantage to the broader CBRM of the $100,000 waterfront helipad that officially opened last week? Why, exactly, was it considered such a good use of public money that Mayor Cecil Clarke himself presented the proposal to council (which passed it unanimously)?

Breton Air, the helicopter charter company whose CEO was one of the very few people invited to the opening ceremony, seems poised to benefit, but Breton Air seems to be basically two people, one of whom lives in Dartmouth.

Here’s the company’s origin story, as recounted on its website:

In late 2016, two Royal Canadian Air Force Officers were approached with an opportunity of a lifetime. The need was there for safe, executive, high performance helicopter services for those who set their sights on the Maritime Provinces for adventure, relaxation and golf. Captains (now retired) Parker Horton and Matt Wallace seized the opportunity and registered the company in January 2017. By studying market requirements and dynamics, the founders spent two and a half years planning and preparing for the precise helicopter services the region required. Delivering upon these needs, Breton Air was born.

(I like the mysterious, Arthurian quality to the story — who “approached” Wallace and Horton? I choose to believe it was a mystical lady, arising from the Bras d’Or Lakes with the starter for a Bell 206LR helicopter in one hand and a golf club in the other.)


Breton Air details NS Registry of Joint Stock Companies

The Port of Sydney may benefit from the helipad — although if they did anything like a cost/benefit analysis related to it, they didn’t share it with council (nor did council ask for it). CEO Marlene Usher tells me the Port will be charging landing fees for the use of the helipad — although Breton Air (for reasons not explained) gets a special deal:

Landing fees are $34.85 for the Breton Air Bell 206 and $60.99 for the Breton Air Bell 412. All other aircraft are $65.00 per landing. All fees will be reviewed after the first complete year of operation.

CEO Parker Horton’s pitch for the helipad, which he made to council last year, was that it would:

…increase accessibility and options for visitors to our port. The clients who are utilizing the service of Breton Air are forecasted to be in the traditional big spender market. These individuals will now be given the opportunity to conduct a quick scenic tour or a helicopter trip with a small excursion added on. These clients will be gone for 1-2 hours of their port stay instead of the majority of their stay — now in the position to peruse and spend their money in the downtown core.

This was all dubious back in 2019, before COVID, but post-COVID, it becomes downright suspect. I mean, our typical cruise passenger does not fall into the “traditional big spender” market to begin with, and in its attempts to recover, the industry is likely to slash prices, a move not intended to appeal to the well-heeled. As Andrew Noymer, an infectious disease expert at UC Irvine, told the Los Angeles Times recently:

They’ll do that to bring out the risk-takers. There will still be ample transmission possibilities onboard. I would recommend people not do it. The advice columnist in me says, ‘Don’t go.’

And while cruise industry publications are reporting on the arrivals of new vessels (vessels that would have been ordered pre-COVID, mind you), a Reuters story from October 2 painted a grimmer picture: “Cruise ships dismantled for scrap after pandemic sinks industry, illustrated by this striking photo of five “hulking cruise ships” being dismantled for scrap metal in Western Turkey:

Five cruise ships being scrapped in Turkey.

(My first thought, honestly, was, “I bet Marine Recycling founder and CEO Wayne Elliott would love to get a piece of that business.”)

As ever, though, the talk at the helipad launch was relentlessly upbeat. As the CBC reported:

Kathleen Yurchesyn, CEO of the Cape Breton Regional Chamber of Commerce, said Sydney’s port had been forecasting a record cruise ship season, but the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled it.

Still, she said, the business community remains focused on next year.

“It is so incredibly important to celebrate the accomplishments and the resilience of our business community and also demonstrate the hopefulness of the future,” Yurchesyn said.

Yes, it’s not every day the “business community” prevails upon the council of a cash-strapped municipality to build a $100K piece of infrastructure of minimal — if any — use to the general public.



Special guests

As noted, the helipad “launch” was a low-key affair, attended by a very few, very special, guests — one of whom was Andrew Prossin, CEO of the financially troubled polar cruise company One Ocean Expeditions (OOE).

His presence gave rise to any number of questions, like, did he self-isolate for 14 days prior to his appearance? He lives in Ottawa, according to the court documents he’s filed related to OOE’s restructuring. (I asked Public Health if Prossin was granted an exemption but was told they do not respond to such inquiries.)

Andrew Prossin (detail Tom Ayers, CBC, photo)

Andrew Prossin at helipad launch, note Resolute patch on vest. (Detail from Tom Ayers/CBC photo)

And here’s another question — why was he here? Could it be because his restructuring plan (which his creditors, whom he owes roughly $30 million, recently approved but which has yet to be approved by the court) includes:

…discussions regarding a management contract of a notable marine facility on Canada’s East Coast.

Are we the “notable marine facility” he’s got in his sights? And if so, what have we done to deserve this? Prossin declined to be interviewed by the CBC’s Tom Ayers, but apparently told those in attendance at the helipad ceremony that the cruise industry “will come back” and that the helipad should be the start of more investment (of public money, presumably) in port infrastructure in Sydney. He then added:

Let’s make Sydney not just a tourism hub, but a real logistics hub here on the Eastern Seaboard, and maybe that gateway to the Arctic.

(I wonder what the first step would be? Hire OOE to manage the marine terminal?)

Prossin hopes to rise from the ashes of both creditor protection and COVID, acquire a new ship, and operate tours out of Sydney next year.

He’s clearly an optimist of the most ruthless variety — how else to explain the Resolute patch on his vest? The vessel, which Prossin leased (from the improbably named, Bahamas-based, Bunnys Adventure and Cruise Shipping Co Ltd) was recommissioned with great fanfare in Sydney and branded by the Royal Canadian Geographic Society (RCGS). It was seized a couple of times for unpaid debts (in the Canadian Arctic and in Argentina), rammed by a Venezuelan navy patrol vessel in March and auctioned off by its owners for US$600,000 in Curacao in June.

According to that Traveller article by Jim Darby cited above, there is speculation Bunnys bought the Resolute itself, using the auction “as a way of wiping out the ship’s debts and giving it a clear title, doing nothing for the many left out of pocket by One Ocean Expeditions.”

Which leads to a final question, I guess — why would you want to remind people of this story by sporting a Resolute patch on your vest? Or are you just trusting most people don’t know it?