Improving air accessibility remains a top priority for the region –whether it’s out of Trail or Castlegar, according to the chair of the East End Services Committee that governs the city’s airport.
Kathy Wallace is reacting to reliability data collected at the Trail Airport recently presented to Trail council, which paints Pacific Coastal out of Trail far more reliable than Castlegar’s Air Canada service to Vancouver.
In January this year, Trail sat at about 91 per cent reliable service while Castlegar slid to approximately 74 per cent; February found Trail reached 83 per cent reliability and Castlegar sank to 69 per cent.
“I think that our Trail Regional Airport is providing a needed service in the area and you can see that by the passenger numbers,” said Wallace. “I also know that Castlegar is working on improving their reliability and we’ll probably see something happen there in the next year, I’d expect.”
Castlegar councillor Russ Hearne questions the accuracy of the figures, as he said the airlines operate under completely different regulations when it comes to safely departing or landing.
“Through their own policy, Air Canada ceiling heights add, I believe, a kilometre of visibility as well as 100 feet of ceiling height on top of what the minimum standards are,” he explained.
“We’re certainly not happy with the ceiling limits that they have to operate in and that’s why the city is working hard on improvements.”
Hearne said air control beacons are installed in and around the local mountains and devices that could communicate with the beacons and provide a virtual flight path are now being investigated.
“This would lower limits drastically, which would greatly improve reliability of landing and taking off and it would also allow for night departures, which is fantastic for emergencies.”
Castlegar’s airport operates strictly on user fees while the Trail Airport is partly funded through regional taxation.
Wallace said the committee has to find a balance when moving forward with improvements to the Trail Airport, without pining a heavy fee on taxpayers.
Exploring future needs of the airport include updating old equipment, the possibility of paid employees, lengthening the runway and building a new terminal building. The master plan identifies two-thirds of external funding, which the committee has yet to see.
“That’s why I have a hesitancy with just going full on with that master plan, it has to be managed carefully,” she said.
“Unfortunately, maintaining the status-quo at that airport is not really an option. There is significant work that has to be done in order to keep it running and meeting federal regulations, right down to whether we pave the stop ways and whether we hire some full-time employees.”
While Trail councillor Robert Cacchioni would have preferred the regional board he sits on went for an original 140 per cent hike to its former $90,000 airport budget ($216,000), he supported the board’s decision to cool that number to an approximate 70 per cent increase ($155,000 or nearly $11 per $250,000 assessment).
“I agree with other members of the committee in that if we hope to find some external funding then we, the deliverer of the service, have to show that we support it,” said Wallace. “But there’s got to be balance there.”