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Airport study comes back positive

Tourism Whistler prepared to follow with more studies

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A preliminary site analysis of the Brandywine area shows an airport may be feasible in Whistler.

Tourism Whistler President Barrett Fisher cautioned, however, that it is still early days.

"The… site in the core of the Brandywine area was given a preliminary nod," she said Tuesday, after a conference call with consultants confirmed the news. "I have to emphasize the word ‘preliminary.’ This is just step one in what would be a multi-step process."

The study, which was commissioned jointly by Tourism Whistler and Whistler-Blackcomb, involved three sites in the area – two in Brandywine and one in the Callaghan Valley.

The consultants studied the feasibility of RNP (Required Navigational Performance) technology in the area. This technology greatly improves scheduling reliability because it reduces the number of flights delayed or cancelled due to weather in a mountain environment.

"It is looking at a mountain site like this… looking at the access and egress into this potential site and looking at it from a north and south perspective to understand if there’s… viability," said Fisher. "And the answer was ‘yes.’"

The study looked at sites for an airport that could handle small, lightweight jets, such as 737s. While two of the three sites were ruled out, the Brandywine site north of Daisy Lake and east of Highway 99 proved promising.

While much is still unknown, such as how much an airport would cost, who would pay for it, who would operate it and when it could be built, Fisher is confident her organization, along with Whistler-Blackcomb, will be taking the immediate next steps to move the project along.

Step two, she said, is to do an onsite engineering survey, which should give more details. It will cost about $10,000.

"We are certainly prepared to proceed and complete this second piece," she said.

The preliminary study was commissioned this summer by Tourism Whistler and Whistler-Blackcomb after Whistler council twice rejected requests for $20,000 to do the study. Municipal staff asked for the money for the study in mid-February, after the Community Monitoring Report showed the resort’s economy flattening or declining in recent years. Councillor Nick Davies was the only one to support it at that time.

In May, Davies again tried to ask council to fund the study, this time getting support from Mayor Hugh O’Reilly and Councillor Gordon McKeever, but falling short of a majority of council.

In the end the study cost $14,000. The cost was jointly shared by Tourism Whistler and Whistler-Blackcomb.

"The preliminary indication is very positive and very exciting but as far as any other insight into directions, it’s just too premature," said Fisher.

The information was presented to stakeholders in a conference call Tuesday. More details are expected in the written report.

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