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Pemberton airport ready for takeoff?

Intrawest teams with Alaska Airlines, WestJet to make pitch for air service to Pemberton



Intrawest is positioning itself to become a major player at Pemberton airport.

Mark Blundell, president of the Pemberton airport committee, confirmed that at a recent meeting Intrawest led a delegation, which included WestJet and Alaska Airlines representatives, and pitched a proposal for regular air services.

The delegation advocated the use of 737-700 aircraft, which have a capacity to seat more than 100 people, and the establishment of an airport authority, which would govern the airport.

The group also lobbied for the airport to be revamped and extended.

Intrawest spokesman Stephen Forgacs confirmed that Intrawest had done several studies on regional airports around North America and shared those findings with the Pemberton airport committee.

"In a nut shell, we found that there’s a great opportunity for the region to profit from the airport at Pemberton," Forgacs said.

Alaska Airlines is based in Seattle and has numerous connections to cities on North America’s West Coast. WestJet is based in Calgary. It started as a regional airline but in recent years has expanded its service to include flights to Central Canada.

Intrawest recently announced that it was reorganizing all its non-real estate entities into a new Leisure and Travel Group to seek greater opportunities in tourism.

Blundell said Intrawest’s proposal was well presented but he was not confident that the Village of Pemberton, which owns the airport, would accept an airport authority.

"It was an interesting proposal because they had done some good research and they feel that they could work with the village to fly airlines like WestJet and Alaska Airlines in and out of here," Blundell said.

"Intrawest would then take advantage of reservation packages.

"The concept might work but to make it work they’ve proposed an airport authority and that probably wouldn’t fly with the village or the council because the village has got a $7 million investment in the airport and I don’t think they’d be prepared to give that up easily.

"Decisions made by an airport authority might not be in the best interests of the village and anything we do has got to do something for the residents because we have had an interest in it since 1972."

The Village of Pemberton has employed airport consultant Bill Neale but with a number of international companies eyeing the airport there is little doubt Neale will need the collective support of the council and the airport committee.

"There’s no doubt this is a tremendous asset for Pemberton and it becomes even more of an asset with the Olympics here," Blundell said.

"There are several other proposals as well. We expect to hear from Prime Air in June or July and then there might be a few other proposals as well."

Blundell said it was likely the runway would have to be extended from its current 4,000 feet up to 6,000 feet and other facilities installed, such as landing lights and bigger hangers, if scheduled service is to become a reality.

"I have to admit that before my trip to Salt Lake City I didn’t realize the potential of this airport.

"I mean, NBC are going to bring about 3,000 employees to Vancouver and Whistler and they will bring a lot of equipment and I’m sure our airport could be used with all that."

One of the advantages the Village of Pemberton has is that commercial aviation technology is now so advanced, airlines don’t need the kinds of expensive ground support they needed in the past.

"WestJet and Alaska Airlines talked about landing systems that they have in the planes that don’t require a lot of airport support," Blundell said.

CEO of Prime Air Blaine Haug said he and his partners were working with Voyager Airlines and they expected to put a proposal to the Pemberton council later in July.

The major difference between Intrawest’s proposal and Prime Air’s proposal will be the type of aircraft they use and the fact that Prime Air intends to run a test case.

Haug said he was impressed by Intrawest’s bid but he believes they are moving too fast in suggesting the use of 737-700 aircraft.

"I thought it was a great proposal and it was even better to see how excited airlines like Alaska and WestJet were about coming here… but I think they’re doing it backwards," Haug said.

Haug said he was an advocate of a "soft launch" or a proposal that involves smaller aircraft, such as the Dash 7, first and then build up into a bigger aircraft.

"I just think they might be moving a bit fast for Pemberton."

Haug said he would know more about his proposal after Voyager Airlines starts flying from Newark airport in New Jersey to Mont Tremblant in Quebec.

"It’s more than a test case really because after they start going from Newark to Mt Tremblant we’ll be able to show exactly how we could do it from Boeing Field in Seattle to Pemberton."