Provincial grant aiming to benefit small airports

The provincial gov't has earmarked $24 million over the next three years to spend on regional airports

The Ministry of Transportation has lift off with its new B.C. Air Access program – a grant program designed to benefit the province’s many small air traffic hubs, including the Trail Regional Airport.

After public consultations, including a meeting with local stakeholders in Trail in November, the provincial government has laid out plans to invest $24 million over the next three years, or $6 million a year, into regional airports across B.C.

Don Goulard, manager of the Trail airport was at that meeting last fall, and says if the airport were to get a small piece of the $6 million being handed out in 2015, it would be great and he’s keeping his fingers crossed.

“It is a great opportunity and I am certainly optimistic and I think it is fantastic they are investing in airports,” he said.

“However, one of the things to consider, is that $6 million doesn’t go very far. If every airport and helipad in B.C. applied, it would mean each would get $20,000. Hopefully nobody else applies, but I don’t think that is going to happen.”

Goulard was one of many attendees at the public consultation meeting, and from what he saw, airports are increasingly important to residents in the Kootenay Boundary and just months later, the province unveiled its plan. B.C. on the Move and the B.C. Air Access program also published a report on its findings, showing that air transportation is a top priority for 71 per cent of people surveyed in the Kootenays.

“These numbers are supported by other communities like Cranbrook, Nelson and Grand Forks – all around,” he said. “We are kind of out in the middle of nowhere so if you can take off by plane really quickly, it is easy.”

Goulard says local airports are the logical place to spend transportation money. With only a mile of runway, airports get more bang for the government’s buck versus building and maintaining winding roadways through the province.

“While at this meeting, we talked about how expensive it was to build a road – $2 million for a mile or something like that,” he said. “I piped up and asked if they saw anything wrong with this. Airports require one mile of road and they can connect you anywhere. Where should you invest your money if a mile of road just gets you a mile farther up the road, but a mile of runway connects you to the world.”

With or without some extra grant money, airport staff is still on a forward trajectory with airport improvements.

This month, Goulard says that architects and designers will be making their final pitch for a new terminal building, before sending the plan to Trail council for a stamp of approval.

“The offices of McFarlane Biggar and the MMM Group (architects and project managers) are planning on doing their final presentation before mid-month, so we will see how that goes,” he said, adding that the presentation stage doesn’t mean that ground will be breaking anytime soon. “This will be a suggested plan, which we then take to council and they will decide on how to move forward (as the owners of the airport).”

In the meantime, airport staff is also busy making smaller, more immediate upgrades.

“There is always housekeeping to do around here, but we are going to be getting new fuel tanks, which is fantastic and was identified (as an issue),” said Goulard. “We are also going to be getting a new environmental management plan together, which is going to be really awesome moving forward, making sure that we do the right thing here for the environment.”