Whistler Air joins consortium against price hike 

Flat planes landing in Vancouver Harbour facing extra fees to use proposed new docking facility


Whistler Air and seven other floatplane operators that use the Vancouver harbour have an uphill battle ahead if they're going to succeed in creating a non-profit landing dock east of Canada Place.

Their proposal is in direct competition with a $22 million private terminal that is being built with the blessing of the Port Authority just west of Canada Place.

To recoup costs its owners, industrial giant Ledcor Group of Companies, plan to charge an extra $12/person to anyone passing through the facility, slated to open in May.

"The reality is that in this economy tourism is the mainstay of what I do and what we do in Whistler and we don't need anymore private developers getting in between our customers and making it unaffordable for them to come to Whistler," said Whistler Air owner Mike Quinn.

"Right now I charge $169. If I had to add another $12 on top of that I'd be close to $200 and that's probably a price point that people will decide they'd rather just drive or not go at all."

Quinn has joined forces with Harbour Air, West Coast Air, Seair Seaplanes, Tofino Air, Saltspring Air, Tyax Air, and Kenmore Air to form the Vancouver Commercial Seaplane Operators' Association (VCSOA), a consortium focused on building a less-expensive, not-for-profit terminal next to Crab Park just east of Canada Place.

The site is currently occupied by Helijet Heliport Services, which Quinn said has expressed interest in partnering. The stumbling block is a 2004 policy statement formulated by Port Metro Vancouver and the City of Vancouver that doesn't support float planes on that side due to a high level of commercial traffic.

"By far and most importantly from the Port's perspective, our master and operations people have significant concerns about safety issues with regard to primarily navigational safety concerns to the east of Canada Place," said Duncan Wilson, director of communications and government affairs at Port Metro Vancouver.

"It's a much more compressed area than on the west side of Canada Place and there are a number of facilities at the foot of Main Street, including Canfisco, the RCMP dock, our dock, and there is the Seabus, there is Centerm, which is a busy container terminal, there is the east berths of the cruise ships.

"While on the west side of Canada Place there is the west berth of the cruise ships and that's the majority of the major commercial traffic so the Harbour Master has significant concerns about the east side from a safety perspective."

Quinn thinks the docking area proposed by VCSOA is safer and more ideal than the westernmost side of Canada Place. As for traffic, he points to the busy location of the temporary dock currently being used, which hasn't presented a problem.

"It's (east of Canada Place) ideal for a variety of reasons, and there is no small boat traffic in that area like we have where we are now in Coal Harbour where we've got kayakers, rowers, canoers and numerous small boats coming out of the marina," he said.

"It's a bit of a dog's breakfast and over on the other side we don't have any of that so it's actually a lot more safe."

The VCSOA would undertake and manage the construction of the new docking facility - dubbed the Harbour Hub - incorporating business costs into existing tariffs until capital costs are paid off.

For the plan to move forward, VCSOA must present their proposal to the Harbour Master and get Vancouver City officials onside.

The group has mounted a public relations campaign and is in the process of putting an application into Port Metro Vancouver.

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