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Merlin Air still waiting to fly

Delay in certification because of music festival estimated to have cost company $100,000

Merlin Air Custom Charters Inc. hoped to start flying people out of Pemberton this year, but it still needs to be certified by Transport Canada — a process that was set back by the Pemberton Music Festival, according to co-founder Lori Xavier.

She told Pique in an interview that Transport Canada officials were initially supposed to come to the Pemberton Airport to do a site inspection in late July. It is there that Merlin Air hopes to build a passenger terminal and 1,600-foot hangar that will hold its planes, which include a Cessna 206.

But that meeting was pushed back due to the Pemberton Festival, which used the Pemberton Airport for parking and thus couldn’t allow flying during the event. Transport Canada consequently couldn’t do a site inspection.

“They wouldn’t do it then because it’s not a normal status to have tons of people there,” Xavier said. “Transport Canada had holidays, staffing issues, so we’re going through our next window of opportunity.”

She said Merlin Air is now looking to have Transport Canada officials visit the Pemberton Airport in late September or early October for a site inspection.

Xavier estimates that the delay has cost Merlin Air $100,000, money that it hoped to gain transporting festival-goers in and out of Pemberton, had it been certified.

“It hurts,” she said. “I mean we’re moving forward, lots of things done behind the scenes... but you know, I mean what can we do about it?”

The site inspection, however, isn’t the only thing that Merlin Air is waiting on. The company is also in negotiations with the Village of Pemberton for a lease that will allow them to build the passenger terminal and hangar so that they have a place to store their planes.

Xavier said she’s been working with the VOP for over a year on establishing a hangar and terminal at the Pemberton Airport and expects to finalize a lease this month. Once that happens, she said Merlin Air can start pre-loading the site for both buildings.

“We have to preload it and begin construction this winter,” she said. “That means we’re going to be able to test winter flight operations, which has never been done before, so we need to test it from a winter standpoint.”

The hangar and passenger terminal are multi-million dollar projects that have been in the works for approximately two years. It is expected that the hangar will house a fleet of single and twin-engine aircraft and provide more convenient service to people attending the 2010 Olympics.

Xavier said she initially hoped to have both buildings completed by now, but she’s still waiting to hear from the VOP about the lease.

“Initially we wanted to be building this summer and have it completed now or completed by this fall or this winter,” she said. “We’re not that far behind, (but) we’re going to have to move a little faster.”

Merlin Air is also waiting on a Transport Canada application that will allow the company to fly an air taxi service. If approved, it would allow the airline to carry nine passengers at a time.

Xavier hopes to later upgrade the company’s flying license to allow up to 10 passengers on each flight.

Merlin Air already has working agreements with 11 airports including those in Victoria, Nanaimo, Comox and YVR South.