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Universal Helicopters shuts down operations

Universal Helicopters announced on May 26 that it was ceasing operations after over 60 years in the province. - Geoff Goodyear photo
Universal Helicopters announced on May 26 that it was ceasing operations after over 60 years in the province. - Geoff Goodyear photo

Company says number of factors, including COVID-19, lead to its demise

HAPPY VALLEY-GOOSE BAY, N.L. —

Universal Helicopters is no more. The company, which has operated out of the province for 60 years, announced it had ceased operations on May 26, along with all its subsidiaries.

The Happy Valley-Goose Bay based company said in a release that it could not reach an agreement with banks to continue operations and that a number of factors, including COVID-19, high levels of bank debt and the acquisition of Lakelse Air in 2018 as contributing factors.

The Nunatsiavut Group of Companies (NGC) owned 40 per cent of Universal Helicopters, according to NGC president and CEO Chris Webb, which they purchased in 2013 through the Labrador Inuit Capital Strategy Trust.

“Unfortunately, the investment did not work out as the Trust had intended,” Webb said in a release. “The company performed poorly in 2019. This spring, the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting general economic downturn compounded the company’s problems.”

When contacted for an interview about the closure Webb said all the information he could provide was that the board of directors has resigned and that the company had ceased operations.

Geoff Goodyear was the president of Universal Helicopters from 1999 until his retirement in 2015 and worked there for 37 years. He said it’s sad to hear the company he devoted so much of his life to has gone under, but it illustrates what’s happening right now in the aviation industry.

“You don’t have to look far to see aviation companies that are hit hard by the impact of COVID-19,” he said. “The aviation industry Is very capital intensive so once you’ve got a lot of capital commitments and are then hit with a weak economy that then translates into a dramatic reduction in business, it takes its toll.”

A legacy

Goodyear said when he heard of the closure the first thing he thought of was the people whose lives have been affected by the company, from current and former workers to people who had used the services over the years.

“There are citizens in this province who were born in the back of a Universal aircraft and people whose lives were saved, either them being lost and in distress in the woods or being medevaced from a remote area to a hospital. There’s a legacy here that goes back to the early ’60s.”

He said he really feels for the 50-plus employees the company had who are now out of work and hopes they can find other work in the industry.

Evan Careen is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter covering Labrador for SaltWire Network.


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