Staff Profile: Liam Dowds - Rotor Wing First Officer
November 27, 2023
27 November, 2023
Liam Dowds started at Ornge five years ago as a Rotor Wing First Officer. He is currently on his way to becoming a Pilot-in-Command through Ornge’s PICUS program. We spoke with Liam to learn more about his unique journey and how he continues to grow within the organization.
What is your position at Ornge and how long have you been with the company?
I am currently a Rotor Wing First Officer in Thunder Bay and I’ll be coming up to five years with the company. October 2019 was my service reference date. I’ve been happy here and I always tell people this beats working for a living.
What made you want to be a pilot?
Well, kind of a strange story. I got my license back in the ‘90s and flew in the ‘90s for a short time. Aviation was a different game back then. I ended up getting a full-time offer from IBM so I left aviation and worked there for 19 years. It got to the point near the end of my time there where I really missed flying and I really wanted to get back into flying. Fortunately, an opportunity arose for me to do that and I was able to go back into the aviation industry.
Has there been an opportunity to grow in your role?
Absolutely. Ornge has a program called “Pilot-in-Command Under Supervision” that outlines how you can make the progression into a command role. The program lets us simulate PIC roles while being supervised by a PIC. I started at Ornge with a relatively low amount of flight time, so my timeline is a little bit longer, but the journey to transitioning to a command role is pretty much laid out for us. The Captains here at Thunder Bay are great mentors and they help us build the skills we need to be PICs.
What drove you to join Ornge?
I started off flying smaller equipment, and Ornge was here on the airport property. I saw the helicopters and I thought: Whoa I’d love to be apart of an organization like that. I’d get to help out the province of Ontario and get to fly equipment that I otherwise wouldn’t be able to fly anywhere else in Ontario. Where else would you get to fly that type of equipment and still have a healthy work-life balance?
I understand you have experience with other rotor wing companies - how does Ornge differ from those?
The work at Ornge is more straightforward than my previous positions. When I came back to aviation I bought my own helicopter and started my own tourism company. I went from trying to be everything to everybody, to being able to focus on being a pilot and improving my abilities here at Ornge. Surprisingly, it’s a lot less than what I had to worry about in other aviation positions I’ve held.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Thunder Bay is different from a lot of the bases in the south; our operational tempo is a little bit slower. Typically, we are one of the few bases that start at 8 a.m. and end at 8 p.m. We come in, check the aircraft, make sure everyone is on the same page, and then service calls when they come in. We’re not like Toronto for example, where you may leave at the beginning of the day and not come back until the end of the day. We have a lot of challenges here in the north with fuel ability and such so a lot of our calls wind up being interfacility transports.
How have you learned to handle stress in your role?
We’ve got a pretty good group here so if there’s any concern we’re able to lean on each other for support. It’s a small tight knit group. The slower tempo of the calls that come in make the stress easier to handle as well. I think Thunder Bay is one of Ornge’s hidden gems. We have it pretty good here, we all get along, and it’s a fun place to work.
What is the biggest difference in your role from when you first started to now?
When I first started, it was kind of like drinking from a fire hose: everything is coming at you pretty quick. I had no previous IFR or night experience when I started at Ornge, so that was a pretty big change as well. I started flying much larger and more complex aircraft than what I was used to. My biggest change is that I’m more comfortable and skilled in handling larger, more complex aircrafts.
How often do you receive calls from remote communities?
Many of our calls come from remote communities. Ornge is the only way they’re connected in most cases. In the winter time, we may be the only connection to healthcare that they have. Though the calls might not be the most complex, in many cases it’s the only way they have access to higher level of healthcare.
At Ornge, our staff work every day around the clock to ensure the patients of Ontario receive the best care available. Learn more about the people behind #teamornge.