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Mark Dobbin is back in the air in Newfoundland with a new luxury helicopter charter business

Family was the reason Mark Dobbin first got involved in the helicopter business three decades ago, and family played a key role in his recent decision to take on a new aviation-related challenge — a luxury charter service.

“It all started with fishing,” Dobbin says. His father, business legend Craig Dobbin, had a fishing camp on the Long Harbour River in southern Newfoundland. The lodge left the estate when the elder Dobbin died in 2006, but his son later bought it back.

The camp is only accessible by helicopter — a need that ultimately led Mark Dobbin to decide to start up a VIP helicopter charter service. 3D Helicopters launched last summer with a special guest — the Stanley Cup — onboard. Cup winner Michael Ryder flew from St. John’s to visit his hometown of Bonavista with hockey’s most famed trophy.

3D’s twin-engine Sikorsky S-76 (pictured) has been retrofitted and reconfigured to seat eight, down from its original 12-passenger capacity. The going charter rate is $3,500 per hour plus fuel costs, according to Dobbin. (Fuel can tack on $1,000 an hour more.)

He says 3D is now working to build awareness. “We’ve still got a ways to go in terms of getting the word out to the all potential customers.” According to Dobbin, the company is eyeing megaprojects — and also tourism — as potential key markets. 3D’s Sikorsky can, for example, reach Vale’s Long Harbour site in less than 15 minutes.

“There’s a market for that,” Dobbin notes. “Whether it’s a single executive who just flew in on his company’s jet, or something’s going on and they’ve got to get eight workers out and another eight back quickly, that type of thing. So it’s a niche market, we understand, but one that we’re excited about.”

And it’s a market that didn’t exist a decade ago, he adds. Then, the Newfoundland and Labrador economy was weaker, and resource projects were being managed from away more than today.

“So it’s the maturity and the prosperity of our economy, I think, that led us to believe there was a market.”

Dobbin acknowledges that the family name, and its long association with helicopters, doesn’t hurt. His father Craig grew CHC Helicopter Corp. into the world’s largest helicopter company.

Mark Dobbin followed in his father’s footsteps; he started in the industry in 1981, when he was just 21. Dobbin spent 17 years at CHC, eventually becoming senior vice-president, and had a five-year stint as CEO of Vector Aerospace. He returned to CHC after his father’s death, serving as chairman until the company was sold in 2008. Dobbin now runs his own private-equity firm, Killick Capital, which includes interests in aviation-related companies in its portfolio. “So from that sense,” he says, “I never really left the industry.”

By Rob Antle

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