Peter Mason, a picker with Level Ground, shows off their new facility at Sean Heights Business Park. (Hugo Wong/News Staff)

Level Ground and VIH Aviation open their doors for Tour of Industry

The Saanich Peninsula is home to many businesses, some well-known, others less so. They all contribute to the local economy, so the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce featured both in their annual Tour of Industry, which happened on Friday, January 26.

  • Feb. 2, 2018 12:00 a.m.

The Saanich Peninsula is home to many businesses, some well-known, others less so. They all contribute to the local economy, so the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce featured both in their annual Tour of Industry, which happened on Friday, January 26.

This is the first in a series.

At the Shell Aerocentre, there is no long security line and free coffee — just one of the many perks of private plane travel. Located near Victoria International Airport, the Aerocentre is home to VIH Aviation Group, which has a diverse group of aircraft services including private jet charters and helicopter repair and refurbishment. The company has 60 years of helicopter management experience, and has customers throughout the world. The company has 391 employees between six affiliated companies and divisions.

Charlie Hodgins and Didier Moinier, both vice-presidents at VIH, led groups through their hangars. One is for helicopters and its repair facility, where workers are refurbishing a heavy-lift Kamov helicopter with two contra-rotating main rotors (and no tail rotor as a result), which is sometimes used for heli-logging in Chile. Another Bell helicopter, with its rotors or tail removed, is being repaired as well. According to Hodgins, it could be sold to a client, or leased by the company as an air ambulance. VIH also rents out hangar space to third parties, including Discovery Air Defence, which operates several fighter jets used as “enemy aircraft” to train Canadian pilots.

In another hangar, used mostly to store fixed-wing aircraft, a gleaming Challenger private jet dwarfed a silver Range Rover and Dodge Challenger belonging to a client. Hodgins pointed out a Cessna 208 Caravan floatplane, which they charter for luxury fishing trips. Up to seven people can fish off the plane’s pontoons. The company also offers direct helicopter flights to the Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit.

From the Shell Aerocentre, participants boarded a Wilson’s bus to the new Level Ground facility in Sean Heights Business Park, which has been under construction for 18 months.

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They had just roasted their first batch of coffee the previous week and participants had a taste outside in the loading dock to keep the food-handling operation clean. Inside, the facility is larger than their old home and designed for public tours. The warehouse is bathed in natural light, with windows into their roasting facility. They will open a tasting room in the summer with views of the Peninsula.

Co-owner Stacey Toews led the group through their business philosophy of fair-trade and partnerships with small-scale growers who operate farms smaller than 10 acres in size. The company now works with 5,000 farmers in 10 countries who grow coffee, tea, dried fruit, cane sugar, heirloom rice, cacao nibs, vanilla beans, coconut oil and spices.

Toews said “fair-trade” is a minimum wage which is the same throughout the world, regardless of the cost of living in any specific country. The Level Ground website lists how much the company paid for coffee from all of their suppliers. For the heavy coffee consumers in the crowd, he noted that one coffee tree takes a year to mature and yields one pound of coffee. Toews was proud that the company has been landfill-free for 11 years, where employees can bring in recycling from home that is not accepted on the curbside. Employees are also paid extra to bike or carpool to work.

Pick up next week’s Peninsula News Review for an inside look at other local businesses: Philbrook’s Boatyard, Applied Bio-nomics, Ocean Networks Canada and the Canadian Scientific Submersible Facility.