The freedom, the views, the exhilaration: is there anything better than soaring over the landscape in a helicopter?
Well, how about learning to fly one yourself?
Blade Aviation is launching a flight school, giving would-be pilots a chance to realize their dream.
“We’ve had so many people ask us about this over the years, that it just makes sense to offer this service,” says Jay McMackin, chief pilot and operations manager of Blade Aviation.
The school will operate from the Muskoka Airport.
A full private helicopter license involves 40 hours of ground flight school and 45 hours of flying time. But there’s also a three or four day introductory package that includes four hours of flying time.
“Obviously you’re not going to be a licensed pilot after a single day, but it’s a great chance for people to give it a try,” says Jay.
Of course, you don’t need to be a pilot – or want to be one – to enjoy the delights of helicopter travel.
Blade Aviation operates a fleet of four helicopters, offering everything from sightseeing trips to fast commutes to the cottage, as well as heavy lifting services.
“Sightseeing flights in this area are amazing,” says Jay. “Five minutes in the air, and you’re over an entirely different world.”
With years of experience living and flying in this region, Jay and his team know all the sights. “The wildlife we see is incredible,” he says. “Moose, bears, you name it – it’s all around us.”
And a helicopter offers a chance to get up close with the landscape. “We do picnic flights, taking people to a remote location and supplying lunch and treats from local restaurants and shops,” Jay says. “We’re also setting up scenic tours and working with tourism operators on other offerings.”
Helicopter travel also brings this area much closer to the city, offering the fastest and most convenient way to get from downtown Toronto to the dock – or to zip down to the city for a meeting that just can’t be done remotely.
Contractors have increasingly come to rely on Jay and his team to get work done on time. “With heavy lift helicopters in the fleet, we can fly materials to islands and other remote jobsites quickly and accurately,” says Jay.
Institutional clients include hydro utilities, government agencies, and even the Canadian Coast Guard.
“You never know what is waiting for you when you come in to work in the morning,” Jay says with a grin. “I love it!”
Air travel is by far the most convenient way to get to and from the cottage, but it brings an inherent challenge: how do you get around once you have arrived?
Confronting that problem time and again has led Blade Aviation to launch a limousine service.
“Having air service in this region is fantastic, but there are limited options for ground travel,” says Jay.
To address that, Blade Aviation has hired drivers and purchased a fleet of luxurious black Cadillac and Mercedes SUVs.
The service was inspired by seeing air passengers struggle to complete their journey. Whether they arrived aboard one of Blade Aviation’s helicopters, by private fixed wing aircraft, or on a commercial airline, passengers still needed to work out how they were going to get to their cottage or resort.
While Blade Aviation offers an array of flight services, a helicopter isn’t always an appropriate way to complete the final leg of travel from the airport to the cottage.
“Our SUVs are luxurious and well-equipped, allowing people to complete every leg of their journey in luxury and style,” says Jay.
Not just for air travel
Travel from the airport inspired the service, but limousines aren’t just for people who are flying.
“This is about much more than shuttling people from the airport to the cottage,” says Jay. “This is a full-service limousine company.”
The vehicles can be booked for sightseeing tours, for special events like weddings and graduations, or simply so that people can go out for dinner without worrying about who is driving home.
“It’s really difficult to travel around this region without a vehicle, but that doesn’t mean you always want to be the one driving it,” says Jay.
And the service isn’t just local. “If you need someone to pick you up in the city, drive you to the cottage and make a couple of stops along the way, that’s no problem,” says Jay. “It’s a full-line service.”
All COVID protocols are being strictly followed by the Blade Aviation team, ensuring the drivers and their passengers remain safe and healthy.
“We view this as completing a transportation network, offering our clients everything they need to travel safely and securely around Muskoka, no matter how they want to travel,” says Jay.
TEXT ANDREW WAGNER-CHAZALON