Charter airline expects to serve Pemberton next year 

Merlin Air planning to build hangar and passenger terminal by fall

click to enlarge Take Off An artist's rendering of the proposed Merlin Air hanger/passenger terminal.
  • Take Off An artist's rendering of the proposed Merlin Air hanger/passenger terminal.

A new Pemberton-based company has filed for a development permit to construct a hangar and passenger terminal facility at the Pemberton airport.

Merlin Air Custom Charters Inc. has been planning and designing the facility for almost two years, and according to a release plans to start running custom charter commercial air operations out of Pemberton in 2008.

Lori Xavier, co-founder of the company, says a charter commercial flight service to the region is necessary, especially with the Olympics on the horizon.

“Whistler is a world-class resort. It’s probably one of the only world-class resorts that doesn’t have real air access,” she said.

The construction of the new 1,600 square foot hangar and passenger facility would be the first phase of a planned multi-million dollar project.

With a small fleet of single and twin-engine aircraft, Merlin Air officials want to start offering their service to business and professional clients, who need more convenient access to Whistler and the surrounding area during the lead-up to the 2010 Olympics.

“Our business model is the future of aviation, using small, quiet, fuel-efficient aircraft to provide custom ‘air-taxi’ services in and out of the region,” Fred Xavier, co-founder and CEO of Merlin Air, said in a press release.

“By starting small and growing with the development of the airport and market demand, we are able to create sustainable economic development, while offering a deluxe travel experience.”

Merlin Air plans to eventually expand its service to serve 11 other airports, connecting Pemberton to Vancouver Island, the Okanagan, Vancouver south and the Fraser Valley.

According to the release, their service will “allow convenient access to the Pemberton-Whistler area from over 70 per cent of British Columbia’s population centres, along two of the most scenic flight corridors in the world, combining spectacular scenery with convenience and safety.”

After the Olympics, they plan to service the professional mobile and commuter markets, as well as an increased tourism industry.

By 2009, the new service could create 12 new jobs and generate more than $2 million per year in economic benefits for the Pemberton area.

Merlin Air officials also say their partnership with the airport would help the Pemberton Regional Airport Authority develop a new strategic plan for the facility, and even assist in receiving airport certification from Transport Canada, as the airport is currently classified as an “aerodome.”

The reclassification could make the airport authority eligible for funding subsidies to make improvements to light and navigational systems, among other important upgrades.

The airport authority is currently in the process of developing a strategic plan to expand the airport, as the facility is underutilized and has resulted in net losses for the Village of Pemberton over the past two years.

But Merlin Air officials don’t want to wait to start their charter service.

“They’re talking about the airport development, but we want to start flying now, rather than wait to see how long the runway is,” Xavier explained.

“So all of these planes can fly safely in this terrain and with existing conditions at the airport.”

While Xavier says the existing runway is acceptable, they want a hangar to house planes and passengers in the winter.

“In order to do the off-season work, obviously we need those buildings.”

And because there is a lack of water and sewer service on the airport grounds, Xavier says they may pay to put those services in place so they can construct their hangar and passenger terminal building.

The company hopes to start operating their service next year, after consultation with the public. A hangar is expected to be built by next fall.

Merlin Air plans to hold public forums in Mount Currie, Pemberton and Whistler during the spring of 2008, as part of the development permit application process.


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