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Canadian Helicopters sees growth opportunities at home

Canadian Helicopters' fleet in Afghanistan includes 7 Bell 212s and 4 Sikorsky 61s.


Canadian Helicopters Group Inc. sees plenty of growth opportunities in Canada despite focusing on its activities in Afghanistan and expanding in Asia, South America and Africa.

"The continuing recovery in the general Canadian economy leads us to expect that 2012 will prove to be another strong year in terms of our top and bottom lines," CEO Don Wall said at the company's annual meeting, at which shareholders approved a new corporate name.

Following approval from the Toronto Stock Exchange, its moniker will change to HNZ Group.

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Both the mining and energy sectors should expand their work this year, but the Montreal-based company is also beginning to focus on reaping benefits from the Quebec government's $80-billion northern development called Plan Nord.

It operates some 40 aircraft in the province, but could relocate others if opportunities warrant a shift.

"We think there will be considerable upside there and we are building our business around that," he said in response to a shareholder question.

Mr. Wall declined to disclose any revenue forecasts from potential Plan Nord contracts.

Most of the work will be focused on helping the mining and utilities sectors develop in remote areas with limited access except by helicopter.

"It is very much a focus towards helicopter support work so we think it will be very good for us over the next few years," he said later in an interview.

The distinction between regular activities and Plan Nord is a little blurry. Canadian Helicopters already supports the railway sector in the province out of Sept Iles, but could add contracts if Canadian National Railway pursues an expansion to remote mines.

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Mr. Wall said the company has also had discussions with Ontario's embattled emergency helicopter service Ornge, which was a client for 35 years before its contract ended last year.

The air ambulance service is under criminal investigation for "financial irregularities."

The Ontario government cleaned house and took control of the organization after the provincial Auditor-General released a report in March describing a "real culture of fear and intimidation" among paramedics and other lower-level staff.

Ornge plans to continue providing the service internally, but Mr. Wall said there's a possibility it could eventually become a customer again.

"Right now you have a situation where you have a new board, a new management team that are trying to decide what's best to do and I think it will take some time to figure that out."

Canadian Helicopters said late Thursday that its first-quarter net income nearly doubled to $8.3-million as a pickup in the Southern Hemisphere helped to offset a seasonal slowdown in Canadian operations.

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The provider of helicopter services for both civilian and military customers said profits amounted to 63 cents per share, up from $4.8-million, or 37 cents per share in the same quarter of 2011.

Revenues grew 33.3 per cent to $62.5-million from $46.9-million, driven by activity in its fire fighting and resource sector markets.

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