Airline ponders adding route

With the Waneta expansion project underway, the delivery of air transit is projected to increase in the Trail area, which could mean expanded service from Pacific Coastal.

With the Waneta expansion project underway, the delivery of air transit is projected to increase in the Trail area, which could mean expanded service from Pacific Coastal.

The airline is discussing the possibility of bringing in a new route which would start in Cranbrook, stop in Trail and continue on to Kelowna.

“We’ve been talking about the possibility, but we are nowhere close to it being a reality,” said spokesperson Spencer Smith. “We’ve been happy with what we’ve seen in Trail so far. Coupled with the fact that there is the Waneta expansion project, we also see that there is going to be a potential increase in demand for access to Trail from many different areas.”

Since Pacific Coastal set up air service in Cranbrook and Trail, it has received overwhelming requests for service to Kelowna, mostly because Interior Health is based in the city that also has an international airport.

Pacific Coastal currently runs a couple flights to and from Vancouver daily, with either a 19-person or 30-person aircraft.

The airline has been flying its larger plane more often out of Trail due to demand, said Smith, adding that the company has witnessed growth since first establishing in Trail nearly five years ago.

While Pacific Coastal can’t provide figures for all of 2010 at this time, Smith said that during December, ridership increased by 50 per cent over 2009.

And to put their growth further in perspective – since 2009 was a tough year economically – he added that 35 per cent more people flew the airline this past December than the same month in its start-up year of 2007.

“We have growth in the market and want to make sure we take care of the growth and continue to serve it,” said Smith, adding that safety is the airline’s main priority but it also takes pride in its willingness to keep trying to fly passengers to their destination without giving up due to early morning fog.

Trail’s airport needs some serious upgrades if it expects to respond to the projected growth for the city’s industrial area.

While the airport’s 4,000-foot asphalt runway is ideal for Pacific Coastal’s larger plane, during the heat of summer, the company has to consider its conditions and in some instances, is stuck operating below capacity to ensure a flight gets out.

“The heat impacts the performance of the aircraft,” explained Smith. “It affects the ability for it to climb because air is heavier when it’s hot.”

Pilots must consider the temperature, altitude (the Trail Airport is 1,420 feet above sea level) and runway length when taking off and landing in the airport surrounded by mountains.

With a longer runway, pilots would be able to get their speed up enough to have a safe take off regardless of the temperature.

The regional district, which operates the Trail Airport, is aware it may need some care and money in the coming years and has included a 10-year master plan in this year’s budget which will help identify future infrastructure upgrades and potentially aid in securing grants.

Operations manager Bryan Teasdale said this year’s airport budget will look a lot like last year’s approximate $163,000, which is covered by a mix of property tax requisitions from Greater Trail communities and airport user fees. However, with work envisioned for the airport, the regional district will look at increasing user fees.

“We’ve seen a small deficit the last couple of years, we can either raise taxes or user fees,” he said.

This year’s budget, which is currently in draft form, will also include the cost of developing the $50,000 master plan, covered by the regional district and the Lower Columbia Initiative, which has made Trail’s industrial park a top priority.

The master plan will explore future needs like updating old equipment, the possibility of paid employees, lengthening the runway and building a new terminal building.

While a master plan has been talked about for some time, the Waneta expansion project has acted as a “catalyst,” said Teasdale.

The $900-million power project is anticipated to create about 400 jobs over five years.

Unfortunately, Trail’s airport can’t operate under the “if you build it, they will come” motto as there is limited funding. Instead, Teasdale suggested, “you can’t build it, until they come.”

He hopes that by taking the proactive approach and planning for the future, the airport will prove to Transport Canada it’s worth investing in.