By Amy Fendley
If one were to take a magnifying glass to the pages of the Canadian Stock Exchange, they might note the existence of a small Canadian company called Prime Air Inc.
Prime Air is located at the Pemberton Airport, and has been for the past four years. The Prime Air hanger was used in June for the Air Show, but rarely since then.
Prime Air had few resources in terms of aircraft and has been looking for a partner. Voyageur Airways of North Bay, Ontario appears to be the new link Prime Air has sought to get its operation off the ground.
In August of this year, Voyageur signed a 10-year code sharing agreement with Air Canada as a feeder line, serving smaller markets in southern Ontario, the northeast U.S. and soon, Pemberton.
The plan is to operate scheduled flights on a regular basis to and from the Pemberton Airport. People familiar with the history of the Pemberton Airport will remember previous incarnations of this plan.
Voyageur Airways intends to begin running test flights next summer. Initially, using one or two Voyageur aircraft.
Voyageur used to be the largest fixed-wing air ambulance company in the world, with a fleet of King Airs and a Citation. Today, it has five King Air ambulances contracted out to the provinces of Ontario and New Brunswick. Seven additional King Airs and three de Havilland Dash 7s are reserved for ad hoc charter and contract work across Canada.
But Wayne McNeal, of McNeal and Associates in Vancouver, has been involved with project management for Prime Air since 1986 and says negotiations are still ongoing and that he hasn’t seen the Prime Air-Voyageur Airways deal.
"There’s an agreement that Voyageur would operate the aircraft for Prime Air. It’s a little bit more definitive than one they’d worked out a few years ago. Things are happening up there."
A lot of time and a lot of money are key elements in taking over a private company. According to McNeal, that was the minimalist’s scenario when Prime Air entered the stock market and its current mangers discovered some skeletons in the closet.
Pemberton councillor Bruce McFadden, after reviewing the Prime Air and Air Transportation Vision for the Whistler-Pemberton Area, says that Prime Air is waiting for three things.
"They have been waiting in anticipation of the Vancouver-Whistler nod as the Canadian Olympic destination, they’ve been selling stocks to get ready to fly," said McFadden. "And they will have to wait for businesses to warrant expenditures."
According to McFadden, individuals want to fly in and out of the terminal to go on golf and ski junkets in Whistler, but not until there is a regular, scheduled service.
"We’ve had a little bit of involvement in this," said Whistler Mayor Hugh O’Reilly. "Before you make any sort of long-term decisions, you should review the state of the world and consider whether something will be viable tomorrow, and not just today.
"We’ve talked to our municipal partners and the mountains, and it’s in our interest to take pressure off the highways to divert traffic and we’re hoping that will happen. It seems as though the Olympic bid has been a catalyst to drive this initiative."
The reality is that the corridor is scheduled to witness the development of the Pemberton International Airport before, during and after Vancouver-Whistler has its international go at the Olympics.