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Pemberton Airport expansion options outlined

More public input sought on direction, scale of project



The Pemberton Regional Airport Authority (PRAA) now has a better idea of what it needs to beef up its airport after the release of an extensive report on July 8.

The 162-page document, titled the Pemberton Airport Project Definition Report, was commissioned by Richmond, B.C.-based PDK Airport Planning Inc. and outlines a series of options the PRAA can consider if it wishes to expand the existing facility.

The trigger for the airport expansion is a significant economic change in the Pemberton region, with resource extraction and manufacturing being replaced by tourism and service sector jobs as sources of income, according to the report.

However according to PRAA president David MacKenzie, who is also a councillor with the Village of Pemberton, there’s a financial incentive to expanding the airport.

“Every year the airport is faced with a deficit,” he said. “So obviously a deficit’s not a good thing, and we wanted to at least look at the airport as a business and figure out, how can we get the airport to at least pay for itself?”

The airport currently has over 400 landings a year and accommodates users such as rescue vehicles, commercial activity companies and gliders. Those landings could increase more than tenfold by 2012 if some of the report’s options come to fruition.

MacKenzie stressed that the report is only one part of the expansion process and said open houses will help determine how the public feels about expanding the airport.

“Their input is critical,” he said. “The airport authority is trying to be very responsible in this project.”

An expanded airport would be expected to accommodate a variety of air activity, such as scheduled commercial air service, charter air and other commercial service, as well as private and government activity.

Options for expanding the airport include extending the current runway from 3,999 feet to 6,000 feet and building a new terminal complex, which would allow public parking and space for further expansion.

Taken together, these options would cost approximately $40.76 million, just over three-quarters of the $52.14 million it would take to make all the improvements needed to meet the expected demand.

The money to pay for these expansions would likely come from lobbying governments for infrastructure improvements, MacKenzie said, but it could also come from private partnerships.

“There could be corporations that want to invest in the airport,” he said.

Another avenue, MacKenzie said, could be airport improvement fees, a common way of raising funds at other airports.

“It’s generally built into a ticket price and it’s collected from the carrier,” he said.

The report comes at a time when airlines are feeling the impacts of rising fuel prices. Jen Boyer, a spokesperson for Horizon Air, said that company would not be providing winter service to the Kamloops airport this year and is no longer flying to two cities in Oregon.

“For every dollar added to the cost of a barrel of oil, that increases our overall parent company's fuel bill by $10 million,” she said. “We're just being very cognizant of where we fly, where we choose to deploy the aircraft to have the highest return we can get.”

When asked why Pemberton’s considering an airport expansion at a time when airlines are cancelling services in some locations, MacKenzie said the tourism industry changes from year to year.

“Travel trends change on an annual basis,” he said. “U.S. visitation to our area is down here, in the Sea to Sky country, but we’ve also seen an increase in our regional market. Canadians are traveling more within the country themselves.”

Boyer, meanwhile, said “quite a bit” of work needs to be done before Horizon starts flying to Pemberton.

The report also says that a number of air service options can be considered for the expanded airport. Aircraft such as the Dash 8 100/200, with 37 seats, could carry passengers between Pemberton and Vancouver, while larger aircraft such as the B737, with up to 140 seats, and the Q400, with 74 seats, could operate from Sea-Tac airport and Calgary.

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