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Homegrown helicopters provide many reasons to celebrate

FORT ERIE, Ont. – Employees at the Airbus Helicopters factory gathered here Tuesday morning donning shirts emblazoned with a helicopter sandwiched by the words “Made in Niagara, for the world.”

The pride of that phrase was evident throughout the crowd.

They joined executives and local government officials who announced a new partnership between Airbus and Niagara Helicopters Ltd., which provides aerial tours of Niagara Falls. Airbus manufactured, delivered and sold four H130 helicopters to Niagara.

“It’s a significant milestone,” said Romain Trapp, CEO of Airbus Helicopters Canada. “To see this helicopter coming from this facility makes everybody so upbeat and proud.”

The H130 helicopters that were built are the quietest on the market. They’re able to carry up to seven passengers and are air-conditioned with ample legroom. Luc Pilon, CEO of Niagara Helicopters, called it “the helicopter version of executive first class.”

Airbus has operated in Canada since 1984, employing 230 people in Fort Erie and 10 elsewhere in the country. It is one of the few manufacturers left in the lower Niagara Peninsula.

After the announcement, executives posed for pictures in front of the new helicopters, and employees took pictures on their phones as an H130 took off to give some attendees a short tour of the region.

Niagara Falls City Councillor Wayne Thomson spoke at the announcement about the value of the jobs at the Airbus factory and the importance of the new helicopters.

“If somebody said 10 years ago a plant in Fort Erie making helicopters is going to build four new helicopters for Niagara Helicopters, that’s unbelievable,” he said. “This is impressive.”

Thomson said Niagara Falls just had a report released two days ago that showed the total percentage of industrial jobs in that city is just 2.7 percent. To be able to sustain the jobs Airbus provides in nearby Fort Erie, particularly given economic hardships, is great, he said. He added that moving forward, the new helicopters will be a great showcase for Airbus when they’re used to fly millions of tourists each year around Niagara Falls.

Fort Erie Mayor Wayne Redekop said that it’s rare for something manufactured in the Niagara Region to stay here for use and that the partnership between Airbus and Niagara Helicopters is an opportunity for just that.

“This project is a big part of our efforts to get out to the world that Fort Erie and Niagara are great places to do business,” he said.

email: bsamuels@buffnews.com