Councillor Nick Davies thinks Whistler should investigate the possibility of building an airport in the Callaghan Valley.
Despite the fact there are two proposals for scheduled air service into the Pemberton airport, and an expected announcement concerning the airport by Pemberton council next week, Davies indicated that this was not a political stunt, but rather a diligent suggestion for a project that could have enormous benefits for Whistler.
"We want to be very careful with our relationship and our partnership with Pemberton because it is a great partnership," said Davies. "But Ive spoken to a lot of people and a couple of old timers have told me that the best place to put an airport, taking into consideration the wind and weather, would be the Callaghan Valley.
"There are other options but both Pemberton and Squamish have their issues. In Squamish there has been absolutely no political will to support or promote (the Squamish airport).
"Pemberton looks like a very attractive option but when Ive stood on the runway and looked at how jets could come in there, there really isnt a lot of room in that valley."
Davies, who is a recreational pilot, said an airport in Whistler would give the resort another competitive edge over several other resorts.
"If Whistler is looking to promote an airport in Pemberton then thats fine but if theres potentially another site in the Callaghan then we ought to at least look at it. If it was technically plausible to put an airport in the Callaghan it would be huge for Whistler."
Mayor Hugh OReilly said "the focus" was still on Pembertons airport but he confirmed that Davies had mentioned the Callaghan idea to council and instructed staff look for a study done in the 1970s.
"There was some kind of study done on a Callaghan airport a long time ago, but Ive never seen it," said OReilly. "It was mentioned when we were dealing with the heliport in the early 1990s and also when we did the floatplane study. He (Davies) instructed staff to look for it because it might have weather information in it."
Intrawest has also lodged an airport proposal with the Pemberton council and the COO of Whistler-Blackcomb, Dave Brownlie, said he would be interested to see how the Callaghan idea develops.
"From a Whistler-Blackcomb/Intrawest perspective we would be very interested in seeing regular and major air service into the Whistler area," said Brownlie. "Whether its in Pemberton or Whistler, wed be very, very supportive."
Pemberton council is expected to make an announcement on their airport at the Dec. 7 council meeting and Brownlie agreed that any Callaghan project would have to be handled delicately in light of what Pemberton council has been trying to do.
"Its all going to depend on what the economics of it are and then obviously theres all the environmental issues, and you have to step through that process one at a time, but if there was a focus it could be done," he said.
"Theres only enough demand for one airport, in terms of providing a regularly scheduled service to the area, and whether thats Whistler or Pemberton I think it would be great for all of our communities. But Pemberton already has a head start because theyve obviously already got the airport."
Regardless of what might happen with this idea, maintaining relationships will be important because it historically takes many partnerships and millions of dollars from both government and private enterprise to make an airport successful.
CEO of Gunnison County Airport near the Crested Butte ski area in Colorado, John Devore, said a concentrated effort involving many levels of government and the community is what made his airport successful.
"It really has to be a community effort in terms of getting everybody on the same page about the same issue at the same time," said Devore. "Weve probably spent, between local dollars and federal dollars, about $20 million on the airport in the last eight or nine years."
Devore said the success of Gunnison County Airport came about because the ski area (Crested Butte), local government and the residents realized that they had to have a functioning airport if they wanted to remain competitive.
"About 30 per cent of the skiers arrive here by air now but one of the biggest users of the air service is Club Med because 100 per cent of their clientele arrive by air," he said. "Right now we have got just under 30,000 seats in the marketplace but our goal is to get 55,000."