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No airport expansion anytime soon

No airport expansion anytime soon

The airport was back on Sechelt’s agenda at an August 9 meeting of the finance, culture and economic development committee, after council decided to revisit the 2014 airport expansion business case.

Doug Stewart, director of corporate and financial services, reviewed the 2014 report by InterVISTAS Consulting Group and presented recommendations.

“I had some concerns with the report,” noted Stewart. “It felt like the question for the consultant was: could we support expansion of an airport, versus the question of SHOULD we be considering expanding the airport? Is there a need for it?”

Stewart suggested that Council refer the question of whether the Coast needs expanded air service to the new Sunshine Coast Regional Economic Development Organization (SCREDO).

However, Stewart felt that even without an expansion, there are opportunities to lease more land at the airport. He noted that he had received an inquiry that morning from someone wanting to lease space for a hangar. Stewart recommended that staff get the area properly surveyed and develop leasing contracts and rates.

In 2016, the airport earned $95,888 in revenues from sale of fuel, aircraft parking fees and lot leases, and incurred $125,479 in operating costs. The five-year financial forecast shows the airport running an increasing annual deficit which must be subsidized from property taxes.

Committee members supported additional leasing opportunities but were distinctly skeptical about the business case for a costly expansion.

Councillor Noel stated: “I do believe there’s value in the airport and we should definitely do our best to try to extract that and build for the future but I don’t see the airport in the next few years being a major capital priority for the district.”

Councillor Darnelda Siegers pointed out that the fixed link study, commissioned by the province, has still not been released.

And Councillor Darren Inkster noted that airport expansion should be a regional project in cooperation with the SCRD and Gibsons, but “the other levels of government locally haven’t jumped at the opportunity to help us fund and/or expand the airport.”

Plans to extend the runway and improve airport facilities date back at least as far as the 1990’s.

In 2006, Mayor Cam Reid and council worked on an airport strategic plan with the goal of expansion. In 2010, under Mayor Darren Inkster, the District received approval for a $1 million grant from Island Coastal Economic Trust (ICET) for airport improvements. Unfortunately Sechelt was unable to find matching funding for the project, which was then estimated at just over $4 million.

By 2014, thanks to changes in Transport Canada regulations, the cost of airport improvements had risen to $10.7 million. Although Mayor John Henderson and council launched an ambitious airport expansion project with a business case and marketing video, it never got off the runway.

Currently a charter service is offered from the airport to Victoria and other locations by Fly! Coastal Air Taxi. Float planes operated by Harbour Air and Sunshine Coast Air (formerly Tofino Air) offer the only scheduled service to the coast, flying from Porpoise Bay.

Donna McMahon

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