This article was originally published in the July-August 2017 issue of Aviation News Journal.
Langley Regional Airport, in British Columbia, arguably has the largest concentration of helicopters in Canada. Why is it that this airport in particular seems so attractive to helicopter operators and maintenance companies?
Langley Regional Airport was built in 1938 and was purchased by the Township of Langley in 1967. Over the years, it has grown into a busy general aviation and rotary-wing airport, with tens of thousands of aircraft movements per year.
The idea of turning Langley Airport into an ideal location for helicopter companies was originally developed by well-known Aviation Hall of Fame pilot George Miller. After serving with the Royal Canadian Air Force (rcaf) as CF-104 fighter pilot, Golden Hawks display pilot, and leader of the Snowbirds demonstration team, George Miller became manager of Langley Airport in 1991.
While simultaneously serving as chairman of the British Columbia Aviation Counsel (bcac), he realised that Langley Airport was ideally suited for helicopter operations. Therefore, he decided to actively market the airport to helicopter companies. In 2000, he was awarded the bcac Airport Management Award for his work at the airport.
While George Miller certainly laid a solid foundation for Langley Airport to be associated with helicopters, his son Guy Miller would later take the airport to the next level. The younger Miller flew CF-18 Hornets with the rcaf, and Boeing 747-400s with Cathay Pacific, before being appointed as Langley’s deputy airport manager in 2006. In 2013, he successfully applied for the position of airport manager, replacing his father at the helm of the airport.
Why the focus on helicopters? Langley Airport is located in an increasingly populated area, so the sound of jet aircraft taking off and landing would not be popular. Also, with a focus on accommodating helicopters, runways would not have to be extended. That said, the airport’s two paved runways are sufficient for maintenance companies to be able to maintain fixed wing aircraft as large as King Airs or Beechcraft 1900s. The central location, in close proximity to Vancouver, Abbotsford, the us border and the mountains, has made the airport an ideal base of operations for helicopter flying schools, fire-fighting and medevac companies, not to mention the rcmp Air Services. A variety of mro (maintenance, repair and overhaul) facilities, such as Vector Aerospace, as well as strong airport infrastructure, easy access by highway, comparatively affordable housing for employees, and competitive commercial lease rates, are all contributing factors to the airport’s popularity. As a result, Langley Airport makes a tremendous contribution to the local economy. According to Guy Miller, it is of vital importance for the airport to have companies that bring jobs to the region. “For us, it’s about aviation jobs, not just the plane and the pilot,” he remarked. “It’s about all the businesses that support aviation.”
Langley Regional Airport has seen and continues to see tremendous growth, no doubt in part due to an efficient governance model, in which Miller reports directly to the chief administrative officer of the Township of Langley, who in turn reports to the mayor. Forty new hangars, all of which have been sold, are being built for general and recreational aviation, while older buildings will be replaced in the near future. Also, additional helipads, as well as a new control tower and terminal building are being built. The latter will house Nav Canada, airport management offices, a flight planning centre and offices for companies that support aviation. It is exciting to see Langley Regional Airport progress, not only as an airport, but also in terms of its remarkable contribution to the community and the aviation industry in British Columbia.