Honda Canada Inc. to resume cold weather testing in Thompson at new location

Honda Canada Inc. has subleased space from CMF Holdings at the old heliport facility of the former Canadian Helicopters Ltd. Burntwood Sea Plane Base site on Jasper Drive for cold weather testing.

The company has been testing cars in Thompson since 2004.

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"Thompson has become a quite important city for us all in Honda organizations, says Naomichi Aoki, product development, technical operations director for Honda Canada Inc. in Toronto. "We came to Thompson for the first time in 2004 for the cold testing and we have been back every winter since then. Thompson has been good to us in terms of conditions we consider essential for the cold testing: i.e. consistent cold temperature, remoteness for confidentiality, and friendliness of community.

"As long as we have winter season on Earth, automobile manufacturers must make sure that the vehicle performs well in the cold weather. Therefore, the cold testing is something that all automobile manufacturers have to conduct.

"Various locations are selected for the cold testing by automobile manufacturers, but I believe that Thompson is one of the most ideal locations providing that the current climate change would not affect the weather pattern of Thompson.

"We will working in the new facility from this winter on in Thompson and we are all excited about it."

Aoki says Thompson has the required infrastructure and is a relatively low-cost location accessible by road, rail and air.

The CMF Holdings sublease to Honda Canada Inc. from December to April from 2009 through 2011 was approved by council resolution Oct. 19.

On Aug. 27, 2007 council had approved switching the assignment of a lease for the city-owned touchdown area and land the adjacent heliport hangar sits on at the Burntwood Sea Plane Base from Canadian Helicopters Ltd. to CKF Holdings, which has since switched an investor and hence a letter of the alphabet to become CMF Holdings.

Essentially, the city owns the land in question, while the investors own existing and future buildings on the site. The site is under construction right now for new building.

Canadian Helicopters had been leasing the premises from the city until 2007 for $800 per year but had not used the Burntwood Sea Plane Base for several years and now operates locally out of the Thompson Airport.

CKF Holdings proceeded with the application in 2007 to switch the lease assignment even though the lease limited the use of the premises to the single purpose pf a heliport - and CKF did not want to operate a helicopter facility there.

CMF Holdings, however, last June asked council to add conference centre or convention centre and also allow winter testing or cold storage as permitted conditional uses in the Urban Hold (UH) zone and Public Environment Reserve zone (PER) for the proposed new buildings on the site north of Jasper Drive. The city will continue to own the land it is leasing to CMF Holdings. The current 20-year lease was signed last month.

Gary Ceppetelli, the city's director of planning and community development, said the approval and issuance of Conditional Use No. 809 permit did not constitute a rezoning of the property, but rather just added additional permitted uses for the land.

While the new Canadian Environmental Test Research and Education Center (CanETREC) and Global Aerospace Centre for Icing and Environmental Research Inc. (GlacIer), being constructed out at Ospwagon Lake, for aerospace engine cold weather testing are the latest such ventures locally, Thompson has a history of cold weather winter testing dating back to the early 1980s with vehicle manufacturers testing one or two units a year in the early days almost 30 years ago.

Chrysler, Ford and General Motors testers would park in the Mystery Lake Hotel parking lot and do their cold soaks.

Typical winter climate testing for vehicles, aside from cold soaks, includes leaving them outside overnight, starting them from cold and measuring engine performance, heater function and interior control function. Engineers then look for water leaks and how ice affects components such as locks and door handles. Snow ingestion involves driving in a simulated blizzard for 100 kilometres to test how snow accumulation on the frontal area of the vehicle affects engine performance.

Land Rover, Volvo, Daimler-Chrysler, Hummer, Jaguar, Porsche and Mercedes-Benz vehicles, along with Bell Helicopters, Cessna aircraft, Navistar engines, and Polaris, Bombardier, Yamaha and Arctic Cat snowmobiles have also been cold weather tested in Thompson.

In the mid-1990s, a Cold Weather Testing Association was formed locally, which included local hotel and car dealers, who travelled to the United States to promote winter testing in Thompson.

In the late 1990s, John Kelleher, the local Ford dealer, invested in property and signed a 10-year lease with Ford, marking the first formal investment and agreement of any kind that led to a testing industry.

Ford now operates a cold chamber in a former aircraft hangar at the Thompson Airport, along with a specially built track near the Norplex Pool, as its Thompson Extreme Cold Weather Test Facility.

Snowmobile sled testers, more interested in snow and ice then extreme cold per se, used Mystery Mountain Ski Club for six years in November for testing.

"These developments are not by accident," Curtis Ross, executive director of the Thompson Regional Airport Authority, said earlier this year. "There have been dozens of people who have done research, been part of delegations and proposal writing to attract new testers. This is in addition to the dozens who have ensured that all the needs of the current testers are met, securing their return each winter."

© Copyright Thompson Citizen

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