Friday, February 11, 2005


Jim, Craig, and Merlin: The How-To of Aircraft Smuggling

"A $45,000 fine! Can you believe it? A $45,000 effin' fine! It'll be a cold day in hell before they see one nickel from me. I'll pay a lawyer that money to fight it, before I pay them a red cent. I haven't done anything wrong!" Jim fumed after he hung up the phone after talking to some Government employee. He gave me some additional details and then stormed out of the office.

I started working for Jim Johnson and Northway Aviation in spring of 1990. I was originally hired to fly C-FUKN, his DeHavilland Otter. I would work for his company for 9 years, fly every aircraft he owned, and become the company Operations Manager. This one incident illustrates the total lack of understanding and common sense prevalent in our taxpayer-paid-wages civil servants.

My first years at Northway seemed to be quite prosperous, and we had attracted a good nucleus of pilots to build on yearly, with the two key players in the pilot pool being myself and a fellow by the name of Craig Brown, who would be named Chief Pilot. I had a young family, and Craig was about to, and therefore we were looking for long-term, stable employment. Jim realized this, and one day approached us with a long-simmering idea that he had regarding purchasing a Cessna Caravan. Northway ran a scheduled service year-round, as well as hauling hundreds of thousands of pounds of freight. The Caravan would be a good fit for the company, and would also open up new avenues into the charter work area, with government agencies and fly-in fishing lodges apt to use this size of aircraft. Craig and I liked the idea, as it was a turbine-powered aircraft, and there were no other Caravans flying owned and operated by a company in the province. Jim would now make a diligent effort to find a good used Caravan.

Spring of '92 arrived, and Jim thought he had found a good airplane. It was owned by Mark Air in Alaska. It was Serial # 20800029. It had an American registration, which would have to be changed, and would need a new Certificate of Airworthiness before it could be put into service in Canada. Minor things, but attention was paid to them immediately. A Canadian registration was acquired, it being C-GJJM, standing for 'C'anada, 'G'eiri 'J'ohnson, 'J'im, 'M'erlin (after Jim's Dad, Jim himself, and Jim's son). All the necessary paperwork was done, fees paid, etc., to make sure it would be a smooth acquisition. The dreaded GST was also paid ahead of time.

The time came to pick up C-GJJM. Jim, Craig, and Merlin, would fly commercially to Anchorage, Alaska. They would view the airplane, and finalize the paperwork. This was accomplished, and Craig was given a few days training on the airplane, and Jim went King salmon fishing.

With the acquisition made and the training finished, the new Canadian registration was installed on the aircraft, C-GJJM. Jim, Craig, and Merlin would now fly it back to our main Base in Arnes, Manitoba, with the stop to clear Canada Customs to be made in Whitehorse, Yukon.

The stop to clear Customs was made, and the aircraft finally arrived at Arnes, and the wheels were put-in-motion to have the "Import Cof A" completed and any other detail that needed attention was addressed. We wanted to use the airplane as soon as possible and showcase it to customers and prospective customers alike. Then, it happened. Jim got the phone call!

"I just don't believe it, how can they think we did anything wrong?" Jim asked. The prospect of a $45,000 fine was really annoying him, and rightly so, though he vowed not to pay it. We couldn't figure out why the company was being singled out, so it was left to Jim's lawyer to investigate and negotiate.

Within a couple of days, we got the answer. Everything had been in order, and after landing in Whitehorse, Jim and his crew were asked if they had anything to "declare". They hadn't purchased any mementoes, booze, or cigarettes, or any other items, so they said "no". They were given the nod to leave, and were soon augering back to Manitoba in the airplane. Guess what Customs later found out they hadn't declared? The airplane! They didn't realize they had to declare the DAMN AIRPLANE! All the fees and GST had been paid, all paperwork completed, and everything done "up-front"! I laughed my ass off when I found this out, as I could just see Jim and Craig exchanging niceties with the Customs agent, and then climbing into the so-called "contraband airplane", and taking to the skies.

Again, within a short period of time, the matter was cleared up. The request for the $45,000 was dropped, and rightly so. It cost Jim some money for his lawyer, but nowhere near the $45,000 they were looking at. What really irks me is that the situation even went as far as it did. I could see being given a warning and a stern explanation of Government policies, but they went for the extreme. The $45,000 figure to me seemed to be a "penalty" for "sneaking by", rather than a fine for a crime committed. It was a case of a simple misunderstanding and ignorance of usually incomprehensible Government regulations.

Anyway, the plane went into service, and still flies with the company today, going on 13 years later. I still have to shake my head when I read today about some small company or poor sap being raked over the coals or forced into bankruptcy because of some small insignificant mistake, especially when the situation could've been solved with one of the greatest (but most-times lacking) of human traits, common sense. Today, when I hear C-GJJM in the air, my mind's eye gives me a vivid picture of the airstrip in Whitehorse, 13 years ago, with a Customs agent waving to C-GJJM as it became airborne, and Jim, Craig, and Merlin making a diabolical getaway!!!

Good old C-GJJM, the "Viking Express", Serial # 20800029, the first Cessna Caravan owned and operated in Manitoba. She arrived in Arnes, MB, at our Main Base, after "sinister" beginnings..... Posted by Hello

Myself and JJM striking a pose on the ice at Pauingassi Indian Reserve, on Fishing Lake, Manitoba. Posted by Hello

Hi! I thought you might like to know the whereabouts of C-GJJM.

A few years ago (might be the winter of 2004-05), it was acquired by a Quebec skydiving school named Atmosphair. It was given a brand new look and has made a lot of people happy since then.

Thanks for sharing the story.

Have a look here and here .
Thanks for the follow-up.


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