The Trail Regional Airport is a critical point of service for medivac flights in and out of the West Kootenay, especially during this time of pandemic. (City of Trail photo)

Trail airport weathering pandemic storm

Commercial flights are not landing, but medivac, private planes are

“During this pandemic, I have developed a deeper appreciation for the value that the Trail Regional Airport has within our local healthcare system,” Robert Baker says.

“It certainly keeps things in perspective, and is a reminder of why the city owns our airport.”

Baker wears two hats for the municipality. Deputy director in the parks and recreation department is one responsibility. And the other, is manager of the Trail Regional Airport, or “YZZ” in air traffic lingo.

Since commercial flights stopped landing at YZZ a few weeks ago, and aren’t expected to resume for at least another month, the day-to-day revenue stream for this city-owned service was also temporarily suspended.

The question now is, “How is the airport faring given that a big part of business is grounded?”

The good news is that the Trail airport is still able to provide a high level of service to BC Air Ambulance, general aviation, and the Southeast Fire Centre.

“Medical evacuations have remained steady during the pandemic, we haven’t seen any changes,” said Baker.

Even better, is that YZZ has a little more wiggle room than other larger airports which rely heavily on revenue through passenger bookings on carriers, or a fee-per-seat.

“We are better positioned than some other airports,” Baker explained.

Granted the primary income is still through commercial air service, Baker says the airport has other cash streams, including licenses of occupation with hangar owners, and aircraft parking.

“This is no different than most other airports, however the Trail Regional Airport does not have the same overhead expenses that medium and large airports do, and so we can respond quickly to change.

“This gives us a competitive advantage, and again I have to acknowledge the flexibility of our airport staff for enabling us to make these changes so smoothly.”

Although commercial flights through Pacific Coastal Airlines have halted, other aircraft are able to land as-needed with one-hour prior notice.

“Our staff have been flexible with shift scheduling, and so everyone remains at work in varying capacities,” Baker said.

“It is times like this that we’re fortunate to have people like Al Doherty, Roger Maio, and Jeff Wookey at our airport. Their character and passion leaves me in awe.”

The BC Aviation Council reports an average decrease of 92 per cent amongst the members it surveyed April 8.

“This is anecdotal information,” Baker added. “But gives a sense of the impact that COVID-19 is having on airports.”

That said, there is a trend popping up near the much quieter airstrip.

“Interestingly, there’s been a lot of cyclists and vehicles travelling through our parking lot in the last couple of weeks,” he said.

“Many of them sitting on the benches that look towards the runway and enjoying the peaceful view.”

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