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Still prepping for take-off

Strategic plan outlines three scenarios for Pemberton Airport; authority awaits archaeological findings

The Pemberton Regional Airport Authority’s plans to expand their airport are inching ahead, as the authority recently released its “strategic plan” and issued a request for proposals to continue to assess development scenarios.

The report, compiled by InterVISTAS Consulting Inc., found that the airport, which is owned by the Village of Pemberton, gets most of its revenue from airport and leasing fees. But these payments are insufficient to cover annual operation costs, like maintenance, insurance and administration, resulting in net losses in 2005 and 2006.

The report concludes the airport is underutilized, presenting a significant lost opportunity cost, and recommends seeking new sources of revenue.

David MacKenzie, president of the airport authority board, says they want to change that.

“The reality is we already have an airport, it’s there, there are people using it, and it’s costing the taxpayer money,” said MacKenzie.

“…We want to, at the very least, be able to operate this with some cost recovery.”

But InterVISTAS’ report doesn’t make a conclusive recommendation to the authority; it outlines three possible scenarios.

The first, maintaining the status quo, would mean no development would be undertaken, and the airport would continue to be underutilized and operate at a cost to the village.

The second scenario would see the airport undergo some capital improvements, like fencing, gravel parking, a new terminal, and possible runway extension. This option would require “significantly increased spending,” but wouldn’t increase revenue much, and probably wouldn’t attract grants from provincial or federal government, as it doesn’t have a strong economic impact benefit.

Finally, the third scenario would see the airport expanded to support year-round service from a major air carrier, which would require an engineering analysis and subsequent extension of the runway, a new terminal, expanded apron, and installation of navigational aids.

With these improvements, the airport could attract up to six scheduled flights per day from major North American cities, which would provide a revenue stream and access to new markets. The report states that this option has a greater potential to stimulate the local economy, and would therefore be more likely to attract government capital grants.

InterVISTAS also noted that because of the 2010 Olympics, Pemberton is in a good position to attract government funding, but this support is expected to decline after the Games.

During the public consultation process, residents expressed concern over potential noise, air navigation, and potential First Nations land issues.

Ultimately, the report suggests that the village proceed by getting a project definition report, which would define optimum structures, systems and operations to allow the airport to support major air carriers.

Don Coggins has been keeping an eye on the progress of the airport and was happy the process is finally moving forward.

“They’ve got to go forward in some fashion, and I don’t think everybody is entirely happy with it, and I don’t think everyone is entirely unhappy with it,” Coggins said, pointing out that there are a variety of competing interests within the community.

Coggins, who lives on the Pemberton plateau and is involved in the local strata, says he is satisfied the airport authority is looking at what is safe and realistic for the area, like smaller jets and passenger planes.

“I think if anybody ever came out and said ‘we’re going land 737s in here’ I think the community would be in an uproar.”

But he still wants to hear more about the environmental impact the expansion could have on the valley, and wasn’t satisfied with the answers he received at a public meeting held by the authority and InterVISTAS in July.

“My feeling from talking to people here is they just want to know what the plan is, what are we talking about here? Even InterVISTAS, when I asked the questions at the meeting, really can’t tell you what the noise impact is on a rural community.”

The scenarios outlined in the InterVISTAS report are very similar to information presented at the public meeting in July, but MacKenzie says plans are moving along according to schedule.

“It seems like we’re probably taking baby-steps, but as we move things forward, we want to make sure that we’re doing this in a way that obviously satisfies the public interest and those of our neighbours and friends in the valley, as well.”

He explained they have been waiting for the results of a First Nations archaeological assessment on the grounds, which will have a strong bearing on future plans for the airport. MacKenzie said the board also had some trouble finding time to meet over the summer.

But, as recommended in the Strategic Plan, the airport authority has taken the next step toward deciding the future of the airport. Last week a request for proposals was issued to five Canadian companies, including InterVISTAS, to develop a project definition report, in hopes that the additional information will help the board make an informed decision about the three scenarios.

“The project definition report is going to really analyze those systems and facilities and all those sort of things and kind of lay it all out,” said MacKenzie.

While Coggins says he hopes outstanding information will be included in the upcoming PDR, he says he has concerns about the timeline and hopes the airport authority will ensure the community is informed and onboard with their plans.

“One of the things you have to do is keep the community appraised of what’s going on. There has been so much misinformation, particularly a few years ago… that people here don’t have a solid idea of what this really means.”

Proposals for the PDR process must be received by Oct. 31, and will be reviewed by airport authority board members during a scheduled conference call on Nov. 5, at which time the archaeological findings will also be presented. Additional public consultation will follow.