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Across the Prairie – Portage Aircraft Carries the Air Tractor Brand in Canada

In the Central Plains region of Manitoba, Canada, less than 75 kilometers (47 miles) west of Winnipeg is Portage la Prairie. Boasting a modest population of around 13,000, Portage la Prairie is also home to the McCain Foods and Simplot potato processing plants, which provide French fries for McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and various other commercialized restaurant chains. Richardson Milling, owned by Richardson International and previously known as Can-oat milling, one of the largest oat mills in the world, is also located in the municipality. The city’s name is derived from the French word portage, which means to carry a canoe overland between waterways. In this case the “portage” was between the Assiniboine River and Lake Manitoba, over la prairie. It is in this south-central Canadian location that, in 1978, John Bodie and Ken Kane formed an aerial application company together. Fast forward 40 years, and Jonair has evolved into not only a leading aerial application company, but lent to the formation of Portage Aircraft. Started by John for turbine aircraft maintenance, Portage Aircraft is now owned by Dave Frisch and Bryan Dion and is the exclusive Air Tractor dealer for Canada. 

Portage Aircraft travels the country calibrating spray systems for operators.

Bryan Dion started with Jonair in the winter of 1999/2000 and Dave Frisch began in 2003. Jon Bodie offered a succession plan to the pair in the latter part of 2010. The duo jumped at the opportunity and in 2011 began their first season as business partners. Bryan originates from a dairy and grain farm background. Being an agronomist and certified crop advisor, Bryan and Dave form the ideal partnership. Jonair is the agricultural spraying division of the companies, whereas Portage Aircraft handles the aircraft sales, maintenance and spraying calibration. Currently, Jonair operates two 502XPs and four AT-502Bs. There also is a Bonaire Conversion AgTruck in the mix. Jonair’s 502XPs are two of eight making Canada home.

A busy year for the Canadian operation runs about 300 hours per aircraft. Jonair’s senior pilots are on their 21st season and the most junior just began his 4th. Bryan and Dave like to start their pilots on the ground for about two seasons, then progress them to the AgTruck. Then, the duo requires that the pilots go through an approved ag course. Once completed and before they transition into the AT-502, the new pilots are sent to Battlefords AirSpray for AT-504 instruction. All aircraft in the Jonair fleet are outfitted with SATLOC G4s and a mixture of CP-9 and CP-11s nozzles. In addition to aerial application, Jonair is also an independent ag retailer. 

Jonair/Portage Aircraft owners Bryan Dion and Dave Frisch (L-R).

2018 was Dave’s first year flying the 502XP. He credits the quieter noise signature and increased performance to the success of the aircraft in his operation. Jonair utilizes some short airstrips and this is where the XP shines. 

Portage Aircraft was formed in addition to Jonair by John Bodie to serve turbine aircraft;! at a time when there weren’t any! Jon had the foresight, amongst many naysayers to see the future of the ag aircraft. Now, Portage maintains the fleet of aircraft for their sister company Jonair, as well as many surrounding aircraft. The company is 100% focused on Air Tractors since its inception. 

Becoming an Air Tractor dealer has opened the door to exceptional service and support for Air Tractor operators in Canada. Previously, items were being delayed at the border, or availability was limited. This proved very troublesome during the peak seasons for AOG situations. Now, as the Canadian Air Tractor dealer, located in Canada, Portage is able to stock a large amount of parts and mitigate that delay or the dreadful breakdown during the middle of summer.  

Portage Aircraft utilizes a start-of-the-art maintenance facility
where every part is categorized and entered into a real-time maintenance tracking system, then cross-referenced to each aircraft. This reduces the time the aircraft is in the shop and out of service. 

Portage has recently upgraded its maintenance tracking systems and are able real-time track maintenance items per aircraft, as well as instantaneously see if a part is in stock. This dramatically reduces the amount of time the aircraft is in the shop. 

Portage Aircraft engineers have been factory certified in airframe welding and wing spar centersplice work. Portage Aircraft also specializes in new aircraft setup and GPS installations to customize the aircraft to customers’ operational requirements.

Through the collaboration of Portage Aircraft, Queen Bee Air Specialties in Idaho and Air Tractor, Portage Aircraft was able to bring a dealership and support system for the Air Tractor to Canadian aerial applicators. Now, with Dave and Bryan at the helm, Portage is set to carry the Air Tractor name “across the prairies” and into the future. 





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