Whistler council has instructed municipal staff to look into concerns over the operation of Whistlers float plane dock on Green Lake after accepting a letter from Tyax Air Services owner/operator Dale Douglas.
According to Douglas, Whistler Air Services, the tenure holder for the float plane docks, has been inconsistent in the way it charges docking fees to the other four companies that use the dock, and recommended a change to the Whistler Floatplane Dock Operations Manual to allow fuel sales.
"With the talks lately of improving the transportation infrastructure in Whistler before 2010, and particularly air transportation and airports, I thought it would be best for the Resort Municipality of Whistler to be aware of the inconsistencies that currently exist at the Whistler float plane aerodrome," wrote Douglas.
According to Douglas, Whistler Air Services charges a $50 docking fee, but has been inconsistent in the way it charges dock users. Douglas says his company, Tyax Air Services, used to be able to dock for free until his company got into a dispute with Whistler Air Services over backcountry tenure. Whistler Air Services was landing planes at the Bridge River Glacier in the South Chilcotins, an area within Tyaxs tenure, and Douglas took the matter to Land and Water B.C., which ruled in his favour. Since the dispute Douglas has been charged to use the dock.
"I have no problem paying a fee, I do in other places, I just think that Whistler could be serviced by a more consistent service," he said. "In a lot of other communities the municipality actually controls the aerodrome more closely. On the whole Im not happy with the way its being run, I think they could be doing a better job for our customers, and it would be better if the muni took it over."
Douglas also says that Whistler Air Services has been selling fuel services to favoured customers, even though the companys Operations Manual only permits the sale of fuel in an emergency.
"The current (Operations Manual) does not allow an operator to get fuel, and thats one of the reasons to have an airport in the first place, to get and discharge passengers and get fuel," said Douglas.
Mike Quinn, the owner and operator of Whistler Air Services denies selling fuel to customers. "Its written right into my lease that Im not allowed to sell fuel," he said. "I make it available on an emergency basis for people who need it, obviously its an emergency situation if youre short of fuel and need to get home, but Im not allowed to retail it."
Even if the operations manual was changed and he was allowed to sell fuel, he says it would have a drawbacks for his own operations. "I buy it from a company that sells it to me on the basis that Im not retailing fuel. If I was retailing it I would be charged a different price, a higher price," he said. "That issue is really out of my hands, I cant decide whether I want to sell fuel or not, so thats not an issue."
As for the management of the dock, Quinn maintains that it is a private business and that he should be allowed to establish his own docking frees based on his costs. If the municipality and Land and Water B.C. were to step in and change his rate structure, Quinn said he would expect to see his taxes, business license and tenure fees reduced to reflect that rate structure.
"If the municipality wants to set my rates, then fairs fair. They charge me $10,000 for a building permit, and between rents and taxes I pay over $10,000 a year to the municipality and province if they want to set my rates, then maybe they should let me decide how much tax I have to pay."
Quinn said he was currently working with Land and Water B.C. to resolve some issues and to update his lease agreement, but says there are no plans to offer fuel or set docking rates.
Council referred the issue to municipal staff. Councillor Ken Melamed did note that one reason the fee structure in the Operating Manual was so high was to discourage traffic to the floatplane dock, and limit the disturbance caused by planes taking off and landing.