René Huessy

Bernadette’s Take on
René Huessy from Niagara Falls

A Swiss-Canadian Highflier

renehuessy4 - CopyThe pilot is Swiss-born, the helicopter is usually airborne. (All photos cour-tesy of René Huessy)

When you travel to Canada, you don’t want necessarily to meet Swiss people.

But in some places, you cannot avoid them. At Niagara Falls, for instance. No chance. Everybody goes to see the falls.

Even, if you, for some strange reason, would not meet Swiss tourists on the boat that takes you to the falls, you probably will meet them if you take a flight with the helicopter over the falls. (Which you should. It is spectac-ular. I vouch for it – I have done it.)

Your helicopter pilot might just be Swiss, from the town of Sedrun in the canton Graubünden.

renehuessy11 - CopyIt is a good sign when the pilot smiles!

René Huessy came to Canada when he was 25 years old. He always wanted to be a helicopter pilot for the legendary Swiss Air-Rescue REGA. That was the original plan. But René had connections to Canada.

His family was involved with Niagara Helicopters Ltd., a company that mainly flies tourists over the Niagara Falls. The business was previously owned by an-other Swiss (they are everywhere!!), Rudi Hafen.

ReneHuessy1Can you see the boat in the water? These poor guys get wet but in the helicopter, you stay dry!

That is why René did his Canadian licence in Toronto. He wanted to stay for three years and then return to Switzerland. Now, it has been 10 years already, and René has a Canadian wife and a two-year-old and ten-year-old son.
“I like the Niagara region with its lakes and beaches”, he says, “it is very livable and the lifestyle is good.”

In these ten years, René has not only learnt to fly a helicopter. He has also learnt the rope of the business: the operation, all about insurance, fuel, Transport Canada, charter flights, scheduling, pilots and so on.

renehuessy7 - CopyIt is global news now that René Huessy still gets goose bumps when he starts up the engine of his helicopter.

When owner Ruedi Hafen retired three years ago, Niagara Helicopters was bought by Helicopter Transport Services, the biggest privately owned helicopter company in North America.

The flights with tourists over the Niagara Falls is about 80 per cent of the company`s business. About 15 per cent are charter flights.

And sometimes, the pilots do flights that you probably have never heard of.
“We fly above vineyards to keep the grapes from freezing, mainly in the fall and in the spring”, René says. “The helicopters help to move the air around the grapes so the air does not stay. We are basically a huge windmill.”

ReneHuessyThis is not a helicopter, this is a huge windmill.

And René can also do rescue flights which are basically air lifts for Search & and Rescue. They rescue mainly tourists who are hurt while hiking in the gorge behind the falls and get stranded.

“There are trails in the canyon below the falls, along the Niagara River, and some tourists don`t have the right shoes or equipment to hike there”, René says.

Did he also have to rescue people who plunged into the falls? “Yes, but they were not alive anymore”, René says.
“Yesterday, somebody committed suicide and jumped into the falls. We go and fish the bodies out the water.”

ReneHuessy2 - CopyRescue mission on the Niagara River. Some cynics call it a free sightseeing flight.

For these sad cases, the helicopter pi-lots do training with the Niagara Parks Police officers on a regular basis.

Luckily, there are flights that are more pleasurable. René’s favourite is the 350-mile-flight to Muskokas country which is also called “The 30 000 Island Region”.
René had to pick up a costumer for a charter flight in Toronto and fly him there.

renehuessy13 - CopyRené and his family boating. Who cares about helicopters when a pilot is on holiday!

So what about his dream being a pilot for Swiss Air-Rescue REGA? René is not really tempted anymore. “I love to work for my company”, he says. “It is a really nice job and I am always home at the end of the day.”

renehuessi9 - CopyPrize question: In what vehicle is René sitting here? Hint: It is not a helicopter.

But he must have seen the Niagara Falls hundreds of times by now!
This does not faze René, no, no, no.
“I always get goose bumps when I start up the engine”, he says. “When I go on vacation, I am craving to go back to flying.”

Well, his next vacation will be in December in Switzerland. René wants to go skiing. That is sometimes a kind of flying, too. And maybe there might be even some falls involved…

renehuessy5 - CopyAnother rescue mission. Attention to the rotors, guys!

Here is the CanSwiss Quiz with René Huessy:
What gift do you bring home from Switzerland?

Good memories.

What Swiss products do you miss most in Canada?

Rivella (soft drink) and good baked bread.

Which are the 3 qualities you cherish most in Swiss men or women?

Work ethic, education, dependability

renehuessy6 - CopyRené really likes boats. I hope he is not steering into some falls because we really cannot afford another rescue mission on this page.

Which are the 3 qualities you cherish most in Canadian men or women?

Open-minded, forthcoming, independent

What triggered a culture shock for you in Switzerland or Canada (in one sentence, please)?

No culture shock set in yet …

Which Canadian or Swiss personality fascinates you?

– Canadian Chris Hadfield (astronaut)
– Swiss Peter Sauber, an entrepreneur known as the owner of various motor-sports teams

Have a look at the website www.niagarahelicopters.com

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