By RENÉ J. ROY
STEPHENVILLE – Carl Dymond may live from away, but he still holds a firm commitment to the island of Newfoundland where he was born and raised. After purchasing the Stephenville Regional Airport, now re-branded as the Stephenville Dymond International Airport, the CEO and owner of Dymond Group of Companies reached out to discuss details surrounding upcoming plans for the airport and the town, as well as help clear up some of the misconceptions and rumours that have come to the forefront since the sale was announced on Sept. 9.
Q: When did you first target the Stephenville Airport?
Carl Dymond: It was around April of this year. I saw it on TV, and I sent an email to Minister Parsons, (MHA Andrew Parsons, Minister of Industry, Energy and Technology) just asking if it was for sale. And how could we acquire it, or lease it, or just do some business with Stephenville airport.
Q: Why did you decide on the Stephenville airport specifically?
CD: Well we’d been looking for an airport for a while, to base our operations out of. When I saw it on TV, I saw of course a massive facility with a vast acreage. And with a 10,000 foot runway, well I thought, that’s what we need is a long runway. So when I looked at it online, I said, ‘Well this is a massive blank canvas’.
Q. Will you be moving to the Bay St. George area or will you leave the day to day runnings to your staff?
CD: Well we have a really good staff at the airport now, and we’ve pledged to keep everyone employed, and actually give them raises. But my family, being from Newfoundland myself, I do want to relocate. I want my kids to see their grandparents more than two or three times a year.
Q: We have all heard that you will be creating jobs right away, but what can people expect specifically? Is there a plan of action or timeline you’d be willing to share?
CD: There certainly is. Being in the military, planning and cost of operations was what I did best. Our goal now is to begin by setting up some of our storage facilities on the airport in the last week of October. From there, we have the international and domestic terminal being designed by our architects. We hope to begin in April with the construction of the terminal. And with regards to the manufacturing, we’ll have some structures right after Christmas, all on the airport grounds.
Q: You also said in your news announcement last month that you have plans to build an aircraft control tower. Is that part of your plan of action to lure commercial airlines back to the airport?
CD: Absolutely. To be able to test and fly our drones, to maintain Transport Canada Certifications, we have to maintain a civil aviation component to the airport. Of course, that’s a moneymaker if you have commercial airlines coming in, with the rent fees, the parking fees, jet fuel surcharges. That’s all cash in the bank for the airport. So us having that civil aviation component is a no-brainer.
I know that some people think that we’re just going to shut it down and make drones there. We can’t do that without a civil aviation component. Transport Canada specifies that we must have that. And it was never a plan for us to shut that down. I want to see airlines come in and see people leaving from Stephenville Airport. That’s a dream of mine.
Q: Why do you think you are going to succeed where, for the last twenty years or so, nobody has been able to get airlines coming to Stephenville?
CD: So as a private company, we’re for profit. And I’m not going to do anything that’s not going to make money for us, and so we’re putting our own money forward. We’re not relying on government funds, Federal, Provincial or Municipal, to be able to do this. So coming in with our own money, we’re putting it up front, And then we’re going to lure these airlines in to say, ‘Here we are. We’re giving you the facilities you need to service your aircraft. We’re going to have the jet fuel at the prices you need to do that, and we’re going to put bums in seats.’
Q: So then when do you expect to see flights coming in and out?
CD: Well, we’re actually planning to have several airlines announce that they’re going to be coming in April. But it takes so long because there’s route planning, and then there’s aircraft parking, gantrys to be able to do that, for Deer Lake, St. John’s, Gander.
And this is a process that takes a while, because they have to have contingencies if aircraft break down – they have to have staff on the ground to be able to service aircraft on their own. They have to have gate and ramp agents. So its an orchestra that has to be put in place in the early fall to be able to be viable by April.
It’s a whole world I didn’t know about, and I learned about it very quickly. I’ve had some very good mentorship in this area.
Q: There are a lot of people who are skeptical about this deal. A lot of people who think, oh yeah, here comes some guy living in a bungalow in Ontario we don’t know anything about. What do you want to say to those skeptics who think this is all too good to be true?
CD: The house I have in Ontario is the house I bought when I was still in the military. I don’t think I should have to show material wealth to show that I have money. I built this business with my own two hands, from my first $200 that I had in 2016. I ate Kraft Dinner for about four months. What I did was I bootstrapped it. I put my heart and soul into this. I’ve been zero harm in the way we do work.
We’ve helped companies that are on the verge of bankruptcy come back. All we do is help people. Do we make money off of that? Absolutely. But you have to have a good network. You have to have good friends, and being a zero harm business, that’s how we did it.
I would much rather work in the co-operation-collaboration space, than the competition space. But the work we’ve done has been discrete because of my military background. I make a lot of mistakes, of course. I always have in business. But that’s how you learn. And we have de-risked this airport as much as possible. But the mistakes that we make, make us better as a company, make me better as a CEO, and make me better as a human. I know there are skeptics. I know there are a lot of conspiracy theories going around.
There have been threats against my family because of this. There have been lots of threats against my family.
People drive by my house, and take pictures of my family. A guy went to my office in Ottawa. And when the police talked to him, he laughed. Just because I’m coming in there.
I know there’s lots of cynics, lots of skeptics, because there have been so many tire-kickers over the years that have come in and said, ‘Yeah I want to do this and this and this’, and then they sit there. But we are the first ones to have made an announcement, the first ones to put tangible money into this already. I’ve bought the fire trucks already. I’ve bought the air traffic control tower, a temporary one. I’ve spent almost 3 million dollars so far.
I want people to see tangible things on this airport. They don’t deserve to be waiting a year for an aircraft to come in.
Q: Is the airport going to be exclusively drone manufacturing or will other aircraft be manufactured there also?
CD: We’re working out a deal with a major airline manufacturer overseas that wants to build aircraft in Canada. We’ve been approached – as we said, we have enough room for them. And then we have our electric mining trucks that we build, that are next generation for 21st century mining. I want to be able to build those on the airport as well.
And people say ‘3,000 or 5,000 jobs; well that’s way too many.’ But thats being conservative for what we want to do, but we want to do it scale-able and logical too. I mean, we don’t want to employ 3,000 people on the first day of November, and have 28 or 2,900 twiddling their thumbs.
We want to be able to do this right so that we’re giving the training to the local people of Stephenville and the surrounding areas, so that we have aircraft engineers, designers, technicians, mechanics, all that stuff. Everyone within the aerospace food chain is going to be trained within the Stephenville area. And it’s not just people from this area. Fogo, St. John’s – if someone wants to come and work for us, everyone’s welcome. My priority is to hire Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.
Q: If you hire 5,000 people, where are they going to live? Have you considered the infrastructure changes that will be needed in the area?
CD: We’ve been working with the town since Day 1. And my first concern was ‘how do we hire people’? We are going to face a job shortage immediately, and how do we house these people? How do we get them the water, the sewer, the roof over their heads? And the groceries in their fridge?
We work with Hatch, which is an ECPM company. (ECPM stands for Engineering, Construction, Procurement and Management.) So what they do, is they build camps for mining companies. So what we want to do obviously is for people that are coming in, we want to be able to build a camp on the airport, for all these workers to train their counterparts. So we’ve already got that sorted, to be able to house all the temporary workers.
We also acquired land in the surrounding areas where we’ll work with real estate developers now to build condos, villages, apartment buildings, stuff like that so that long term, the influx of people coming in, the permanent workers, will have all the accommodations that they need. The last thing I want is a housing shortage.
Q: You’ve spoken about food sustainability up north and how you already have drones delivering there. We have issues with that around here. Not with sustainability, but with availability and freshness of fruit and vegetables. Do you have a way to help Newfoundland with that around here?
CD: We’ve looked at it. We’ve looked at airports in North Sydney even. So if the ferry’s not running to Port aux Basques, how can we transport those 53 foot trailers or containers to at least St. Andrews near Port aux Basques in order to not lose stock thats in there – the fresh fruit, the vegetables, all that kind of stuff.
We also looked at how do we ensure food security for people of the area? I know that, right now, it has to go into St. John’s and come back out. But we’re working with those people now to have some kind of concept of operations where we could do that.
We are not looking to put these companies out of business, because they certainly have a model that they use for a reason. We’re giving them an alternative by saying ‘What is it you guys need? Is it a lay-down area to put your containers? Is there certain storage that you need?’
Maybe over the years they’ve had trouble getting that. What we’re going to be offering is ‘Come in with us. Let us work with you with your problems.’ We’re solution providers first. Let’s see how we can work that out.
Because I don’t want stuff to go all the way to St. John’s and back. Thats a nine hour drive. You have essentially two days less on your expiry date on your produce. So we’re going to work with those suppliers, all the logistics companies. It’s passing right by us every day. Why can’t we stop and take some off?
Q: What are your drones used for generally? Oil or gas industry or something else?
CD: The drones we’re going to be making in Stephenville are not made yet. We have the prototypes for those. They’re being constructed, going through wind tunnels and stuff now. They are for cargo delivery only.
I know that there’s some rumours saying that, you know, because of the work I did in the military, that we’re in the Kill Chain, all that kind of stuff. We are not doing any of that. At all. I did enough of that in the military. It’s time for me to put some good karma back into this.
Everything that we’re doing is purely cargo delivery – grocery delivery, equipment, all that kind of thing. We are not looking to arm these. We are not looking to put anything on these that would make them look like they’re nefarious in nature. We’re just building big, big drones that can carry a lot of stuff.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
CD: I’d just like to thank everyone in the Stephenville and surrounding areas for their support. I really appreciate being given a chance to do this. Good stuff is coming, and I hope that they see that there’s going to be tangible stuff going on at this airport. I think that will take away the naysayers and conspiracy theorists. We just want to come in and do good work for profit. And we’re going to do it well and we’re excited for the people of the area.