Merlin Air still waiting to fly 

Alliance announced with three other companies while government reviews licence

Merlin Air may not have wings yet, but that's not stopping the company from showing the world that winter flying is possible in Pemberton.

Lori Xavier, vice-president of marketing and communications for the Pemberton-based airline, has developed a strategic alliance with Saltspring Air, Whistler Air and Tyax Air to do some "test market winter flights" into the Pemberton Airport.

Merlin Air has yet to get an air taxi license from Transport Canada that would allow it to start flying, but for now it wants to help other airlines provide service to Whistler.

"Because we don't have our certificate, we can't take money for flights," Xavier said. "That doesn't mean we don't want things to start happening."

The strategic alliance will see Saltspring, Whistler and Tyax provide winter air service into both the Pemberton Airport and Squamish Harbour Government Dock, starting this month. Merlin Air will then provide transportation from the plane to Whistler in a sport utility vehicle.

Merlin Air won't be flying its own planes, but it's looking to see how facilities in both Pemberton and Squamish can handle winter planes.

"It's important... that we show that there can be winter flights into this area. And there can be," Xavier said. "To get into Whistler you have two options in the winter. Through Pemberton, or you can fly into Squamish. The harbour's easier to get into in the winter because of fog and all sorts of things."

Anyone who wants to book a flight into Whistler via Pemberton or Squamish can start today, as Xavier tells it, though she says some preparations are still needed in order to get the service going via Merlin Air.

"This is just starting," she said. We haven't sat down, we have to have a meeting with all of our alliances. It's quite logistically complicated, obviously you can buy a flight on Saltspring Air or Tyax Air or Whistler Air tomorrow."

Last September Merlin Air had a 30-year lease at the airport approved by the Village of Pemberton. After that it secured a lease on the largest hangar at the airport, one that used to be occupied by Pemberton Helicopters.

The building is providing a temporary home for the fledgling airline until it can build its own hangar, which the company initially hoped to build this winter.

The air taxi license has been in Transport Canada's queue since last April and has yet to be approved. If approved, the license will allow Merlin Air to fly planes that hold up to nine passengers. The next license would allow the company to use aircraft carrying up to 19 passengers per flight.

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