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Sudbury Aviation page 2

Story and photos by Robert S. Grant

In 1977, while balancing infant son Robert in a back carrier and realizing that flying lessons were financially possible after all, Margaret contacted flight instructors at Sudbury’s airport. During her training the school changed hands three times, but she persevered and soloed a Piper PA-28 Cherokee on wheels. In less than a year, she earned a private pilot licence and applied for work at Ramsey Airways.

Accepted because of her bookkeeping experience and unrestrained enthusiasm, Margaret often jumped from office to dock. Pumping floats, rolling propane tanks and cleaning windshields as a general all-purpose “ramp rat”, she also learned from legendary pilot Rusty Blakey. When the company won a contract to supply a mining camp north of Wanipitae Lake, she slugged the days out unloading drums, lumber and beefsteak boxes from the base’s Cessna 185 and de Havilland Beaver. Thanks to Blakey, Margaret occasionally logged flying time and perfected the rudiments of tying boats and canoes to airplanes.

In 1981, word drifted down to Ramsey Airways from Whitewater Lake that Sudbury Aviation had been listed for sale. Margaret quickly drove to Azilda and, with financing in place, found herself in possession of a charter service and flight school. Six pine-walled cabins named the Northern Trails Outpost Camps came with the purchase. They all needed “plenty of paint and hard work.” Fortunately, chief pilot Mel Laidlaw remained with the new owner, and, thanks to his help, Sudbury Aviation soon expanded to 16 camps on 14 lakes.

“I went to sports shows to market the camps. Outpost business tripled the first year and so did the charter and flight training, and we’ve never stopped,” she said. “The school just went mad, so we leased a 172 [C‑FQDN]. People had to book two weeks ahead to get a flying lesson.”

In the early 1980s, Transport Canada issued operating certificates based on aircraft weight. When Margaret became owner, Sudbury Aviation used five Cessna seaplanes, all under 4,000 pounds in Group A. By showing “just cause and reason”, Margaret received authority to operate in the Beaver category and, consequently, purchased C‑FIUU (msn 945) in March 1981. Previously, her pilots had found that they had no choice but to carry two loads to a lake. Now, the 450-hp Beaver needed only one trip.

As she had at Ramsey Airways, Margaret never hesitated to act as loader, organizer and booking agent. Wanting to fine tune her flying skills, she enrolled in her own flight school to move up to a commercial pilot licence. On April 13, 1990, after instruction by staff members Ray Labine and Laidlaw, she completed a flight test. Most of her current 3,000 hours have been logged on seaplanes, mainly with 30- to 40-minute trips to company camps north of Sudbury. “In this business, people meet me on the Internet or at sports shows; then they come here and I’m at the counter giving them a fishing licence, collecting their money and briefing them with a map of their lake,” she said. “Then I walk down to the Beaver and go flying with the same people. We get some interesting reactions.

Besides outpost flying, the relaxed training environment around Whitewater Lake attracts numerous flight students aspiring to become private or commercial pilots in Cessna 172s C‑FYKA and C-FQEH on CAP 2000 floats. The company stands out as one of a few offering ab initio training on seaplanes. The 25-hour recreational pilot permit has also encouraged new business. Students seem to come in clear-cut categories and have the advantages of earning both sea and land (using a ski-equipped plane in winter) endorsements.

“It’s Dad helping a young man wanting a career change, or somebody going directly for their commercial pilot licence,” explained Margaret, who divorced Bob Watson and, in 1985, married Terry Hyland. “We also find that it’s people who have mortgages paid, children educated and an I’ve-always-wanted-to-do-this attitude who come in.”

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