By Lisa Boonstoppel-Pot
It sounds quite grand to own your own airport but Summer and Tyler Papple are farmers at heart with a new love for flying that gives them confidence that the acquisition of the Wingham Airport will be a good fit for their own aviation company.
Sitting in the kitchen of their Seaforth farmhouse, it’s much warmer in than out and the gusty winds means it isn’t a good flying day. Later, standing at the hangar where their Cessna 172 is parked. Summer considers if she would fly today or not. “I might but I would not take passengers on a day like today” she says. They don’t encourage winter flying as their business, Papple Aviation, is mostly geared to the May to October window with the bulk of their business being scenic flights. They also do deliveries and crop scouting with the two Cessna planes they own.
Summer and Tyler became pilots later in life once their kids were teenagers. In fact, it was their son Oliver who introduced them to flying. Oliver has his recreational flying licence but he now stays home to shepherd his sheep while his parents fly the skies with Papple Aviation. Summer is the chief pilot and Tyler balances his time between farming and flying.
“When I was a kid, my dad used to fly a lot for work and I imagined I could be a stewardess but I never thought of being a pilot back then,” reflects Summer, now in her 40s. She particularly enjoys taking locals, tourists and fellow farmers into the skies to see the lakeshore or the fields most people only see from ground level. With flights ranging from $140 to $300 for scenic tours from Goderich, Wingham and London airports, they’ve found themselves booked solid on summer weekends, sometimes taking to the skies over 10 times a day.
Turning their love of flying into a business was a no-brainer for the couple. Flying is an expensive hobby with fuel, insurance and maintenance costs more than the average plane owner can afford. There are strict regulations for aircraft maintenance that requires planes to undergo oil changes and maintenance every 50 hours of flying. And it’s not like pilots can stretch it like car owners do. “There is a tiny bit of leeway but you can’t push it to 60 hours,” says Summer.
Papple Aviation received Transport Canada certification in 2017 and began operation of Papple Aviation that year. Summer and Tyler both fly for the business, maneouvering their Cessna 172 C-FPAP and the larger Cessna 182 C-GPRX, which they purchased in 2020, through the skies. Both planes are hangared at their farm strip.
Before starting their own business, Summer was a pilot with MedEvac, flying a King Air 200 in Manitoba and Nunavut, working two weeks on, two weeks off. In 2020, she earned her helicopter commercial pilot license as a result of receiving scholarships from The 99s, The Whirly-Girls and Female Aviators Sticking Together (FAST). She also volunteers with Hope Air and Canadian Wings of Rescue as well as The 99s International Organization of Women Pilots.
Being in the air is joyful for her, especially when clients exclaim at the views. From viewing the black holes in the Maitland River, to the winding lakeshore to the patterns of crop fields, seeing things from the sky is kind of like reading a map.
Tyler agrees. “From the sky, Goderich makes more sense. You can see how one road goes north, another south and then east and west out of the Goderich Square.”
Within a few minutes of takeoff from their Seaforth farm, many familiar Huron County landmarks come into view -- the Hensall Coop elevators, Varna Grain elevators, the gravel pits in Holmesville, Bayfield, the Bruce Nuclear Plant and the lakeshore. By the time the plane reaches 1,000 feet, one can see Kettle Point sticking out, the city of London and how organized the farms are in the county.
The Papples do crop scouting as well and had one client require scouting of over 5,000 acres in one day. However, most of their business is offering scenic tours and they find it interesting how some customers instinctively orient themselves and others can’t seem to find their house even when everyone is pointing straight at it. They shared the story of a little boy aged six to seven who went up in the plane and seemed to have excellent geospatial skills. The Papples flew over the client’s house and pointed it out, expecting it would take a bit for him to find it. However, he found it immediately, saying, “And our truck is parked in the laneway!” His mom never did locate it.
They’ve had farmers sitting in the backseat able to name the owner of every property they fly over in their particular township.
Depending on how fast they fly (speed uses more fuel), the planes hold enough fuel for five hour flights. They bring out a thick book called the Canadian Flight Supplement which outlines all the landing strips and refueling stations across Canada. This is important when planning longer flights like the personal flight they took to Montana, their first mountain flying experience. Summer says she’s never afraid while flying but during that trip, when trying to view Mount Rushmore as the sun was setting and the wind was picking up over the mountain, she felt a “little uncomfortable”. Still, it was a trip that gave them so much more trust in long-distance flying.
Flying requires confidence and the Papples knew right from the beginning they didn’t want to be occasional flyers. “Many pilots only fly 10 to 40 hours a year and get scared. We wanted flying to be second nature … to have that muscle memory that allows you to correct how the plane is flying in the wind without thinking.”
Some people do feel ill while flying and some are frightened. The Papples recall one flight when they had to circle back to Seaforth after one woman who was scared of heights couldn’t overcome her fear. Not a problem, said Summer. Most people really enjoy the experience. They’ve had customers with tears in their eyes over the sight of seeing Ontario from a height of 1,000 feet.
Being a pilot means you are also part of the flying community. Before becoming pilots, Summer said she didn’t know anyone else who had their own planes. Now they are part of that sky-high community and they hope to attract both private and commercial pilots to the Wingham airport.
Their plan is to offer a courtesy car and a self-help fueling station so that pilots will see Wingham as a destination. They will fly in, pop in the car, explore the river and have lunch in town or perhaps take in a play or Cowbell Brewery in Blyth. Interestingly, the Papples take Onewheels (a self-balancing, single wheel, electric board) wherever they go. These electric skateboards allow them to travel from their plane to hotels with a backpack containing their belongings. “They have saved us so much on taxi fares,” says Summer.
They also envision the community making use of the Wingham airport by hosting events, or coming to watch planes take off and land. The air cadets use the airport every year (except during the pandemic) to fly in gliders which is fascinating to watch. They also plan to build more hangars to make the airport more profitable. While they don’t expect the airport will be a big moneymaker they do think their vision will allow it to be financially sustainable. ◊