Michael Kleywegt worked hard to obtain his commercial helicopter license and establish his own business . After 10 years, the Thunder Bay resident is living his dream, and is now determined to help make a difference for area First Nations.
Kleywegt wants to use his contacts within his industry to help improve water quality on reserve and build new schools in Thunder Bay.
“I want to give back to the communities for everything that they have given to me,” said Kleywegt, who is thankful for the $100,000-worth of funding his band gave to him to pay for his education.
Kleywegt’s mother is from Albany First Nation. He father is of Dutch ancestry. In 2000 Kleywegt attended Chinook Helicopter’s flight training program, where each hour of training costs $680. Each student must log 100 hours to become a licensed pilot.
When Kleywegt’s company, Wisk Air, isn’t fighting fires or performing search and rescue missions, they are contracted by various mining companies to transport equipment and personnel around the country. Now that the 30-year-old has settled into his career, he is ready to focus on giving back.
Kleywegt’s plans are still in the development stage and he wasn’t ready to divulge details, but he did say he hoped to facilitate a more thorough consultation process between First Nations and industry.
“Getting the communities involved in the mining and exploration is very important,” said Kleywegt. “I want to help things on a political level.”
Kleywegt’s father, Harold, isn’t surprised that his son is doing his best to return a favor.
“Michael openly and with great love acknowledges those who have supported him,” said the senior Kleywegt. Harold recalled his son making the decision to become a pilot the year after he graduated from high school.
Spending his childhood as the son of a structural engineer and living a rural lifestyle is likely what contributed to Michael’s fascination with helicopters.
“We were living in trailers in the bush of northern British Columbia and, at that time, I used helicopters as a personal taxi to get from one side of the mountain to the other,” explained Harold.
The opportunity to see new places is one of the profession’s perks, but these days, Michael said he is trying to stay closer to home. As the father of a five-month-old boy named Jacob, the pilot is taking on more office duties at Wisk Air to avoid leaving his family for days at a time.
“I’m trying to guide myself into a position that has me leaving town less often,” he said.