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Airport study highlights opportunities, need for more work

Area not suited for 737 aircraft, consultant says



After 15 years of talk about airport development proposals, Pemberton council saw the final draft of the airport’s 10 year business plan Tuesday, but residents will have to wait a little longer for a definitive decision.

Bill Neale compiled the report on the airport for the council and while it was very encouraging, the report also recommended that council should review its position on a number of issues before making a decision.

Council will now review the report, investigate further studies and solicit public feedback.

One of the more significant points Neale made was that the airport, and the surrounding area, is not suited to supporting 737 passenger aircraft, or aircraft that can take up to 150 people.

Neale said it made more sense for the airport to accommodate smaller Dash 7 and Dash 8 aircraft, which take about 30 people at a time.

He also recommended that the Village of Pemberton retain control of the airport, rather than facilitate the creation of an independent airport authority.

"Airports can be the best thing to happen to a community, or it can be its worst nightmare," said Neale in the report.

"Depending on the different types of air traffic at an airport it can also be quite intrusive to the surrounding area. Airports are political, and as such, impact the governing council.

"For this and other reasons, the Village of Pemberton needs to remain in control of the airport; how it is used and by whom."

Control of the airport and the types of aircraft Neale recommended are pivotal because they directly affect the two passenger-service proposals Pemberton council has been presented with in the past four months.

A proposal by Intrawest, Alaska Airlines and WestJet was aimed at bringing in bigger aircraft and urged the council to create an airport authority, while Prime Air’s proposal was based around the use of Dash 7 and Dash 8 aircraft.

Neale’s report might tend towards supporting Prime Air’s proposal, but he also makes it clear that Pemberton council needs to revisit their contract with the fixed base operator.

The major sticking point council has with Prime Air is that it first entered into a contract more than 10 years ago and as yet, the fixed base operator, or FBO, has not started a regular passenger service.

"In 1993 the Village of Pemberton entered into a two-year term (on completion of a terminal building) with Prime Air. The Agreement has been extended and is now in the eighth year of a 30-year term. The agreement is very confusing and not entirely clear as to the responsibilities of each party," Neale writes in his report.

"Over the course of the next six to twelve months the Airport needs to negotiate a long-term relationship with Prime Air that benefits both parties but does not limit or inhibit the Airport Owners plans for the Airport."

Neale added that council should look at addressing the lack of weather history data, he pushed for a marketing plan, and another study, which would look at the potential for expansion.

"Currently, sources of funding traditionally available to qualifying airports are ACAP (Federal) and Small Ports and Airports Program, formally ATAP (Provincial).

"Pemberton Airport does not meet the qualifying requirements for either of these. Some of the challenges Pemberton face is how to qualify leveraging its strengths and identifying new or alternate sources of funding."

The 2010 Winter Olympics featured heavily in Neale’s presentation and his report where he writes that the "Olympics represent the single greatest opportunity for the Pemberton Airport and area, certainly the most visible."

The Olympics will allow Pemberton to market the opportunities the airport presents to a world-wide audience, leverage funding from a number of sources for infrastructure and kick-start a scheduled carrier service into Pemberton, according to Neale’s report.

In the short term Neale encouraged council to help develop more general aviation and adventure tourism activities , such as heli-skiing and skydiving.

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