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Whistler stakeholders prepared to offer support for airport expansion

Tourism Whistler and Whistler council waiting to see plans

With the Weyerhaeuser/CRB logging dispute cooling off, Pemberton council will now have more time to spend on paving the way for an air service into their airport, and the positive news is Whistler stakeholders say they are prepared to help.

As the benefits of a functioning airport in Pemberton become clearer and the Olympics get closer, interest in the airport is growing and several organizations are starting to call for a joint effort to get an air service started.

Representatives from Prime Air and Intrawest, the two organizations that made air service proposals to the Pemberton council, have both spoken of the need to gain widespread support for the airport’s redevelopment.

Intrawest has advocated for an airport authority, while Prime Air has talked more about gaining support from individual organizations and stakeholders.

Two weeks ago MLA Ted Nebbeling waded into the debate and encouraged the Pemberton council to look at the "bigger picture".

The success of other joint airport ventures such as the one involving Sun Peaks Resort and Kamloops airport are also working as a catalyst for greater co-operation and it appears some of the major players in Whistler are listening.

Whistler Mayor Hugh O’Reilly said the Pemberton council knew that Whistler would always be "here to help".

"The airport has been a topic of discussion for as many years as I’ve been on council," said O’Reilly.

"For the most part people come in and they say ‘boy’ and get all enthusiastic and they go up there with a program and then they see the challenges that it (the airport) faces with technology and aircraft design, and the weather that’s there.

"You know their council has seen enough come through their doors with great ideas but none of them have come to fruition."

O’Reilly said many times developers interested in the airport have approached him first not knowing that it are in the jurisdiction of the Pemberton council.

"Lots of times when people don’t know the Pemberton council they often start with us and they come to my office and ask me about it and we say we’re very supportive.

"We continuously tell the Pemberton mayor we’re here to help and I’m sure if there was a real opportunity we’d be more than happy to do that.

"But to date there’s been a lot of false starts.

"Intrawest has really put their mind to it and brought in some very experienced people and they’re looking at some opportunities and we’re going to keep pushing on it because our own research tells us that one of the drawbacks of this area is that access here is not as convenient as it is to some of our competitors.

"Even recognizing that there’s going to be weather challenges at times, we could increase the availability of direct flights from Seattle and Calgary and some of the shorter hauls because these are difficult drives already and we could be getting people out of their cars."

O’Reilly said in his experience, interest in the Pemberton airport is something that "comes and goes".

"All they (the Pemberton council) have to do to see how we would run an airport is get all the parties together and work out some human resources, but we’ve never got that far down because something goes sideways before that happens."

Arlene Schieven from Tourism Whistler has met with Prime Air and there are members of Intrawest’s Whistler-Blackcomb team on the Tourism Whistler board, but she said her organization had not yet seen a comprehensive airport plan or financial report.

"I think if you’re looking at things like guaranteeing flights, it’s probably a bit premature," said Schieven.

"We would be partners in something like this but it’s a bit early because we haven’t had a proposal put down in front of us."