Olympic security may ground airlines, heliskiers 

Fixed wing aircraft banned from flying between Pemberton and Squamish


The Olympic rings have a whole new meaning for helicopter and small aircraft operators in the Sea to Sky corridor.

That's because airspace security during February's Olympics is laid out in rings like the ripples on a pond and many aviators say the rings are making it all but impossible to carry on with business.

"I'm going away on vacation," said Collette Morin, owner and operator of Glacier Air based in Squamish, in a resigned voice.

At Games time she would normally be busy teaching students to fly, running the occasional charter flight or sightseeing operation and even doing avalanche control spotting.

But in 2010 all those operations are so highly restricted she is planning on just shutting down and renting her hangar and space to the military.

Even with the income from the military she stands to lose thousands of dollars, as she must continue to pay operations costs including salaries so that she doesn't lose staff to competitive schools not under restrictions.

"The list of what they will allow is a lot shorter than the list of what they won't allow," said Morin.

"They won't allow flight training, they won't allow sightseeing, they won't allow aerial tourism, they won't allow aerial sightseeing, they won't allow regular charter flights, but they tell us we can still operate our business.

"The complexity makes it unrealistic to operate. So for a small company like (mine) it is absolutely ridiculous, it is not financially feasible. We would lose less money by closing for that period of time than by staying open."

The Olympic airspace restrictions will run from Jan. 29 to March 24.

Over Olympic sport venues and athlete villages there is a "no-fly ring," except for security and emergency flights.

Outside of these rings there is the Olympic control area. It reaches 13 nautical miles out from Vancouver and Whistler.

Outside of that ring is the Olympic restricted ring, which extends 30 nautical miles out from Vancouver and Whistler.

Within the control ring activities such as parachuting, parasailing, paragliding, hang gliding, rocket launches, radio controlled aircraft, UAVs, hot air balloons, dirigible aircraft, agricultural operations sight-seeing aerial advertising and banner towing, flight training and general aviation are banned.

"That's what we do," said Morin adding that her flight school business was up significantly last year over 2008.

Now if a student wants to take a solo flight outing at Games time it will take six hours instead of one. That's because the pilot, student, and plane must be security screened, must then fly directly out beyond the three security rings and land at another airport before the student can fly solo. Then the flight must fly to Vancouver or another airport with Games security screening to get checked over before they are allowed to fly back to Squamish.

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