Floatplane Pilot Training: Honouring the legacy, flying into the future.
Just east of the picturesque village of Fort Langley, British Columbia, sits a modest airport on the south bank of the Fraser River. The airport is small, and tucked away under the gaze of the Golden Ears mountains. It’s an unassuming place with a rich legacy: for over sixty years, careers have been taking off at Fort Langley Air on this strip of river where pilots come to get their start on floatplanes.
floats on the fraser
“Skyway used the Langley Airport as their main base, and flew floats off the river in the Fort, including a Piper J3, a Piper PA11, a Piper Supercub and a Cessna 180.”
– Brad Nelson, Pilot
The dock at Fort Langley Airport in February, 1964
Pilot Brad Nelson has property in the neighbourhood, and has been flying for over 45 years, clocking easily 10,000 hours on floats. “I know the area pretty well,” says Nelson rather modestly as he shares stories about the history of flight training in Fort Langley.
He remembers when aviation business visionary Art Seller ran the seaplane training arm of Skyway Air Services Ltd. out of Fort Langley Airport in the 1960’s.“Half of the guys that I came up with trained with Skyway on floats.”
Flight Training at the Fort
When asked why pilots love to fly the Fort, Nelson responds, “The appeal of Fort Langley is the location.” In addition to providing a challenging training ground, it is “away from everything – if you head north, you are no longer in the control zones – it’s not as restricted as some of the other places.”
Nelson goes on to say that Skyway, a big aviation operation (started just after WWII) maintained one of the biggest schools in all of Canada in the ‘60s. “They used the Langley Airport as their main base, and flew floats off the river in the Fort, including a Piper J3, a Piper PA11, a Piper Supercub and a Cessna 180.”
Eventually, Skyway Air Services became part of the consortium, Conair. Art Seller’s son, David Seller, also a pilot, took over the training school at Fort Langley in 1973. In 1989, Dave Seller sold the training school, and his father sold the Fort Langley Airport to Walt Davison.
Float planes on the dock at Fort Langley Airport in June, 1972
Pilot Brad Nelson is in his 47th year of flying floatplanes. Brad is pictured with his grandson on FLA’s Dehavilland Beaver CF-FHC.
fort langley air revived
“It’s the freedom of being in a floatplane: as soon as you leave the dock you are your own, [making] your own decisions.”
– John Ferguson
In the 1990s Ferguson and his friend and fellow pilot John Lovelace (of Wings Over Canada fame) were sharing ownership of a Cessna 185 (CFUIE) at Fort Langley Airport. They were flying off the Fraser River and renting space from Walter Davison, who still owned Fort Langley Airport.
Pilot Dave Hamel (who had been a mechanic with Conair and a pilot with Skyway since the 1950’s,) was working with Davison doing the float training. Says Ferguson, “I always wanted to be a pilot. As a kid I built model airplanes and hand controlled airplanes for flying. I was in air cadets, and then [eventually] I got my private license.” Ferguson’s love of flying led to obtaining his commercial license and working for a series of local float operations starting in the 1960s: Island Air, McCullys Aviation out of Tofino and Airspan.
When asked about the attraction of flying floats, Ferguson is quick to respond: “It’s the freedom of being in a floatplane: as soon as you leave the dock you are your own, [making] your own decisions.” After logging over 2000 hours on floats, John joined Air Canada in 1973. His career with Canada’s largest airline led to a captain’s seat, but John was not done with float planes. He was spending downtime with his C185 at Fort Langley Airport where Davison’s flight training business was starting to wind down.
Fly the Fort – Pilot training, tours and charters
Ferguson decided it might make for an interesting side hustle. And in 1999, while he was still working as a captain for Air Canada, he took the plunge and bought Fort Langley Air. Says Ferguson, “My son was coming along as a pilot, the training centre was going to shut down, so, I resurrected it and brought on Dave Hamel as my Chief Pilot. I wanted to see it continue.”
His son, also named John Ferguson, stuck with flying and currently works for local BC carrier, Harbour Air. Ferguson believes their biggest accomplishment was continuing to provide a launching pad for career floatplane pilots. “We were capable of giving new folks a start; we have helped a lot of younger folks start careers and start as instructors and they have gone on to work as pilots and training pilots in companies all over Canada and the world. We’ve been training an average of 40 pilots per year since we took over in 1999.”
Ferguson retired from Air Canada in 2008 and continued to focus on Fort Langley Air until he sold it to overseas investors in 2015. Current Chief Pilot, John Crawford took over as Operations Manager and ran the seaplane training and tours business for the overseas owners until 2017.
Pilot John Ferguson has consulted on the refit of Fort Langley Air’s Beavers, 2018.
DHC-2 CF-FHC when she was just a baby.
Our Cessna 180 CF-YQQ came to us from Yellowknife, NWT in September, 2018.
the future of fort langley air
“We want to continue to be the pilot’s choice for floatplane training and float flying. We want to sustain what has historically made Fort Langley Air successful, to honour that legacy, and continue Fort Langley Air’s contribution to aviation.”
In 2017 the business went up for sale again and caught the eye of local entrepreneur Scott McIntosh, a thirty-year veteran of the transportation industry. As the son and grandson of career bushpilots, McIntosh first got familiar with aviation literally at the ground level, pushing barrels of av fuel down to the dock. “As a kid I watched my grandfather load and fly water bombers from the Forestry Division dock on the Winnipeg River. I flew with my Dad on his Arctic expeditions in my teens. I’ve hand loaded a lot of freight on a lot of different bush planes! I’ve always been attracted to the freedom that only a float plane offers you to explore remote places in Canada.” McIntosh sold Fort Langley Air in 2020 to pursue other local aviation projects.
Fort Langley Air’s owner, avid local aviator and entrepreneur Ian Porter, is a lifelong explorer and adventurer, passionate about the local general aviation community. Working with founder John Ferguson and chief Pilot Andy Blacker, Porter plans to ensure that Fort Langley Air continues to be the premier floatplane training centre in Canada.
In 2018, Fort Langley Air was acquired by local entrepreneur Scott McIntosh. He built the hangar at Pitt Meadows and established a thriving operation at YPK.
Fort Langley Air trains career bush pilots on lakes in the Fraser Valley.
Chief Pilot Andy Blacker.
Fly the fort
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