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Northwestern Air hits 50
Company grew from one plane to 14 over the course of a half-century

Karen K. Ho
Northern News Services
Saturday, August 1, 2015

Northwestern Air Lease is celebrating its 50th anniversary this week.

NNSL photo/graphic

A 2013 photo of Darrin Gossek, Thomas Thorne, Chris Williams, Dustin Carter and Jason Gravelle with the company's Jetstream 32 in Yellowknife. - photo courtesy of Northwestern Air Lease

Co-owner Terry Harrold, a licensed pilot, said that things have changed quite a bit from the early days in 1965, with their lone leased B15.

"I don't think people realize we've grown so much," he said.

Since then, the company has used Second World War B25 bombers to fire fires, started a charter business in 1985, gradually got into turboprops and now operate many routes between Fort Smith and Edmonton or Yellowknife each day.

There are now 14 planes in Northwestern Air Lease's fleet, with scheduled flights making up about 75 per cent of the business.

The company also has many charter flights, including trips to the diamond mines three times a week. Harrold estimated there are currently 70 to 75 employees.

However, the lower cost of oil and the resulting lost business from Alberta oil companies closed its Red Deer, Alta., base in February after having established it in 2006. It offered service to Saskatoon, Meadow Lake, Fort McMurray, Fort Smith and Yellowknife. Ten people were laid off.

Right now, Harrold said the company plans on sitting tight for the next two to three years and saving money during the winter months.

"You know that you're that you're going to have a bit of a slump," he said.

Still, things aren't bad for the man who almost became a farmer before joining the air cadets and eventually the Royal Canadian Air Force as a reservist.

Harrold said the biggest lesson is pretty simple.

"The business depends on good people working for you," he said. "And working together with your employees to make it work."

The Fort Smith airline has planned a community fish fry at Queen Elizabeth Park, which is on the outskirts of the town, and sightseeing tours around the river to mark the occasion.

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