Flying standby 

An airport at the north end of the Sea to Sky corridor may finally get off the ground

Since 1978 administrators in the Sea to Sky corridor have been trying to organize an air service from Pemberton that would help grow tourism in Whistler and the corridor in general.

For most of the past 27 years only one company, Prime Air, has been attempting to start that air service.

But in the past year – spurred in part by the Olympics – there have been several key developments. Major carriers such as Westjet and Alaska Airlines have shown an interest in providing service into Pemberton, Intrawest made a presentation to the Pemberton council, federal and provincial politicians are taking notice, one Whistler councillor has started talking about an airport in Whistler and there have been a variety of consultants’ reports. Tourism Whistler has also shown an interest.

Despite all the rhetoric no partnerships or managing bodies have been formed, no funding has been announced and no major upgrades have started. But on April 25 Pemberton and Whistler councils will be sitting down to discuss the Pemberton airport and other regional transport issues. It’s the first real step that Whistler and Pemberton councils have taken to understand each other’s position. It may even lead to a joint task force.

The idea for a meeting was first muted by Pemberton Councillor Mark Blundell about a month ago, after Whistler had started investigating the possibility of building its own airport. A Whistler airport was raised by Councillor Nick Davies just before Christmas, some months after Intrawest, Westjet and Alaska Airlines had made presentations to Pemberton.

The Pemberton council is strapped for money, has a variety of development proposals it’s dealing with and a rapidly expanding population. Arguably the biggest card it can play is the airport, but it must be done carefully and strategically. For these reasons, and perhaps others, the presentations by Westjet, Alaska and Intrawest were received but no action has been taken.

From this situation was born Davies’s suggestion for a Whistler airport. Davies, a lawyer by trade and a recreational pilot, believes he has a strong case for an airport in the Brandywine/Callaghan area south of Whistler. In early February, with Whistler’s community monitoring report showing exactly how much the resort economy has dropped off in recent years, Davies said on national radio that he thought an airport could be one way of re-igniting Whistler’s economy.

In March, Whistler council was asked to approve a $20,000 study into the technical feasibility of a Whistler airport in the Brandywine/Callaghan area. Davies was the only councillor to vote in favour of it. He slammed the other councillors for ignoring the facts presented in the monitoring report and for being closed minded.

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