Preserve airport’s charm

A collection of slippery green vintage chairs and couches, a snack bar run on an honour system and a steady flow of residents showing up more than willing to work for free, the Trail Airport is one of a kind and my favourite way to travel.

With demand projected to rise, I can imagine many great improvements on the horizon for the airport but I just hope that the facility’s spirit isn’t lost in the process.

When I walk into the tiny terminal that reminds me of my uncle’s basement, sans the mass collection of old vinyl, I’m kindly greeted by name and rarely have to wait for more than a minute to check my bags.

I’m not forced to empty my pockets, take off my shoes and jacket and walk through a metal detector while my carry-on luggage is scanned through an X-ray machine. And a security officer does not give me the choice of a more personable pat down or delightful body scan.

Beyond the simplicity of flying out of Trail, Pacific Coastal has been a reliable source of air travel, if a report distributed last month is any indication. Created by the regional district’s Bryan Teasdale, airport operations manager, the report concludes that in January the airline cancelled 17 of its flights while Air Canada, which operates out of Castlegar, nixed 35.

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, according to company spokesperson Spencer Smith.

Though it’s in the early stages, the airline is discussing the possibility of bringing in a new route that would start in Cranbrook, stop in Trail and continue on to Kelowna.

Along with talk of service to Kelowna, the regional district, which operates the facility, is aware it may need some care and money in the coming years and has included a 10-year master plan (about $40,000) in this year’s budget.

The plan started this month will help coordinate, develop and facilitate improvements for the airport, which could be budgeted for next year.

Exploring future needs of the airport – like updating old equipment, the possibility of paid employees, lengthening the runway and building a new terminal building – is a healthy process that will most likely result in positive growth for Greater Trail.

But I can’t help but think that with upgrades, Trail’s unique airport will lose some of its colour.

Trail’s industrial area is already gaining much attention, with Firebird soon relocating to a new 17-acre lot and 40,000 square foot building near the airport, and, of course, the Waneta expansion project.

Across from the airport, about 30 acres of land were cleared to accommodate offices for the hydroelectric project. While the buildings will be temporary, certain improvements such as paving, water, electric and sewage facilities may remain intact.

Part of the master plan will be reviewing the airport’s assets, which include surplus land behind the airport used by dog walkers.

Along with ensuring air transport meets demand and that the airport continues to be an economic driver for the area, there has to be a fine balance of what it is today.

After all, it’s the airport’s laid-back atmosphere that gives part of its competitive edge.