Photo: Oliver Owen (center), with his family at the Manitoba Aviation Council (MAC) awards.
To be recognized as a pioneer in aviation takes vision and determination. Oliver Owen’s desire to make transportation better for First Nation communities landed him the Manitoba Aviation Council’s Pioneer of Flight Award. His innovative use of the Cessna 208 Caravan Amphibian transfigured access to transportation in these communities, inspired others and positively impacted operations at St. Andrews Airport.
Founder and owner of Amik Aviation, Oliver was the first person to use the Cessna 208 Caravan Amphibian, a utility orientated aircraft, for scheduled commercial transportation service in Canada. This fuel efficient, quiet, reliable machine is ideally suited for northern Manitoba’s remote communities, many of which are located along lakes and waterways. Manitoba Aviation Council (MAC) presented Mr. Owen with their most prestigious award; the 2019 Pioneer of Flight, for his accomplishment.
Established in 2006, the Pioneer of Flight award celebrates the careers of men and women whose drive and determination have had a significant impact on Manitoba Aviation. Over the years it has been presented to many notable Manitobans such as; Arnold Morberg (Calm Air International), James A. Richardson (Western Canadian Airways, Canadian Airways), and Tom Lamb (Lambair) among others.
Recognized at MAC’s annual gala dinner in April, Oliver humbly accepted the award, “I began my aviation career path 41 years ago, and it means a lot to me to be recognized.” The road hasn’t been easy, but Oliver’s vision and courage saw him through many obstacles and challenging times. The actual award for the Pioneer of Flight is customized for its recipient; Oliver’s is a hardwood model of his first caravan amphibian.
A lifelong dream
Oliver’s fascination with airplanes and flying began at a young age. Born in Little Grand Rapids, and having spent much of his childhood growing up in Pauingassi, Oliver saw first-hand the transportation obstacles remote northern communities faced. Planes were essential for supplies, travel, and medical assistance, but they weren’t always readily accessible or affordable.
“Oliver’s only motivation, has been to make air travel a little more convenient for his home communities,” shares Valerie, Oliver’s wife. His use of the Caravan Amphibian was the impetus that effected real change. Communities that once had little access to transportation or inter-community travel now had a reliable and affordable option. Oliver even built docks at the communities for his planes. Amik Aviation offers passenger and cargo services to Little Grand Rapids, Pauingassi, Bloodvein First Nations, Berens River, and Poplar River twice-daily, six days a week and once on Sundays.
“He has made quite an improvement in travel needs in the First Nation area,” says Harold Crow, past Chief of Pauingassi and once long-term council member at Little Grand Rapids. “Most of the time people would struggle to get to the airport across the lake. He made a difference; he made it easier for us.”
Harold shares other ways Oliver’s service has made a difference. It is expensive to live on the reserve, and people rely on receiving lower cost items from Winnipeg. Before, a lot of freight was lost at the airport because no one was there to look after it. Dogs would get into it and destroy everything. Now, Oliver brings the freight to his base and co-ordinates its delivery. He also takes letters to the city for community members at no charge; the cost is $25 per envelope with other services.
“Oliver speaks Ojibway very well and hires First Nation people who also speak our language. This makes a huge difference for our elders who travel with him,” Harold adds. “He also keeps a small plane at his base in Little Grand Rapids. If his plane wasn’t there, it would be very expensive to charter a flight to go fishing or hunting. He is always making improvements to his service. Oliver is very inspirational. He always talked about starting an airline, he made up his mind and went after it, did it step by step, and it was an enormous effort, but he made it.”
Today, Oliver can look back on his accomplishments with pride. Amik Aviation is a First Nation owned and operated airline that provides a much-needed link to northern communities. His wife, Valerie, children and extended family assist him with the business. Oliver’s continual perseverance in pursuit of his dream to fly paved the way for many notable accomplishments in the industry, including that of a pioneer in Manitoba’s aviation industry.
Photo: Amik Aviation’s hangar in St. Andrews.
Tania Moffat is a freelance writer, editor, publisher and photographer. She has worked in the publishing industry for the last 15 years on a wide variety of B2B and consumer publications, both in print and online. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.