Written for Vertical Magazine
He’s only been president since August, but Dwayne Charette is no stranger to Airbus Helicopters Canada (AHC), having joined the Fort Erie, Ontario-based operation back in 2003.
Recently, at the Helicopter Association of Canada convention in Vancouver, British Columbia, Vertical chatted with Charette to find out more about his background and his new role as Airbus Helicopters celebrates its 35th year in Canada.
“I came to Airbus — what was then Eurocopter — from the supply chain-side of the automotive industry, so aerospace was new to me. The group was starting to move towards much more process-driven manufacturing, and I had that background, so it worked quite well,” said Charette.
Originally from the Niagara, Ontario, region, Charette moved away earlier in his career, only to return to his roots to raise his family. Now in his 17th year with AHC, he worked his way up to the position of chief operating officer before being appointed president.
“It’s a humbling experience to get the opportunity and responsibility to lead, and I’m appreciative. But it always looks easier from the lower level until you’re there. There’s lots of stuff that’s coming at you.”
Charette points to the work done by his predecessor, Romain Trapp, in establishing a solid foundation at AHC.
“We’ve had a focus on customer experience over the last few years under our new transformation plan. This role is much more customer facing — the interaction with the customer, getting feedback and understanding what we can do better.”
Recognizing the opportunity in providing a higher level of post-sale service, Airbus has rolled out HCare, a helicopter service and support package that can be optimized to meet a customer’s needs. Alberta-based air ambulance service STARS is the first Canadian operator to sign up for HCare, for its new fleet of H145s.
In addition to full MRO capabilities at its Fort Erie facility, Airbus has developed several approved service centers. But Charette acknowledged that the Canadian network is limited and said that Airbus is working to add additional shops.
“It doesn’t make a lot of sense for customers if they want to do a 12-year inspection or a conversion and they have to fly the aircraft from Western Canada to Fort Erie,” he said.
With a legacy stretching back 35 years to the MBB Bo.105 LS helicopter for the Canadian government, the Fort Erie facility now covers close to 140,000 square feet and employs over 250 people.
Fort Erie is the company’s “Center of Excellence” for composite component manufacturing. Parts and fully completed assemblies for eight models of helicopters are delivered directly to Airbus final assembly lines in France, Germany and the United States.
With a helicopter product line that stretches from the single-engine H125 up to the H225 medium/heavy lift machines, “I think we have something, to be very frank, for any mission in Canada,” Charette said.
“The product is second to none, and I’m very proud that we can actually make a difference in Canada. And on pretty much any Airbus helicopter flying anywhere in the world, there are parts that came from Niagara. How many people know that?”