A PBY Catalina amphibious aircraft known as ‘Shady Lady’ backtracks runway 12 at the Alberni Valley Regional Airport before taking off on a local sightseeing flight on July 23, 2020. The aircraft, known in Canada as a Canso, was visiting from Victoria. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)

Alberni airport gets GPS approach

Airport advisory committee will work on ‘vision’ for Alberni’s airport

Three years after expansion of its runway was completed, the Alberni Valley Regional Airport finally has a published GPS approach for pilots.

It is one piece of the puzzle that is slowly coming together for the facility, Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District superintendent Mark Fortune said.

“I’m happy with the way Port Alberni’s airport is coming along. It’s basically what the politicians put in play a few years ago; they’re starting to see fruit from it now,” Fortune said.

A new published GPS approach will mean aircraft flying under instrument conditions will be able to use the airport in a wider number of circumstances. Right now the approach heights are fairly high, which means planes aren’t permitted to land if the cloud layer is lower than the approaches.

As the ACRD completes certain other steps in the process, the approach heights will get lower, which was the point behind the push for a new published GPS system.

One of those steps was clearing trees and vegetation at each end of the runway. Extensive clearing has taken place at the west end of the runway, although a few more trees on land owned by Mosaic Forest Management will need to be topped, Fortune said. There is also clearing that needs to be done on the east side, he added.

A new weather station (AWAS) has finally been installed, and Fortune is working out a few bugs before he can apply for Transport Canada approval. That process has also been stalled thanks to COVID-19 restrictions, but Fortune is hopeful to have the weather station online by fall 2020.

Although the runway expansion was completed in 2017, it took three years for the new features—longer runway and better lighting system—to be published in the Canada Flight Supplement. Information for every runway in the country is published in the CFS.

“We had applied at that time (2017) with all the proper permits to have it changed in the CFS, but it didn’t happen until July 16,” he said. “We’re getting a lot of traffic requesting information, now that it’s in the CFS. It’s on the map now, which is a good thing.”

One positive result is that the airport has seen more private jet traffic than ever, he added.

Another piece of the puzzle will come from the ACRD airport advisory committee, which former Port Alberni mayor Mike Ruttan chairs. The committee was created by the ACRD to help advise the future of the airport; as a standing committee its members report directly to the Alberni Valley and Bamfield Services Committee.

The advisory committee will start a long-awaited “visioning process” in the next few months, starting with the hiring of an independent consultant, Ruttan said.

“What we want is to have a later-year vision—10, 15, 20 years—as to how the airport can be used more effectively than it is now. What are the areas of growth, what are the natural attributes,” Ruttan said. Once that vision is in place, the ACRD can target specific operations to expand the airport “and justify the expansion and the investment the community has made.”

The AVRA is classified as an aerodrome, not a certified airport, and Ruttan said he hopes the consultant will point out what steps would need to be taken to certify.

“We also have to recognize the airport itself has areas it can go into and areas it can’t…it’s clear from the province what is permissible out there.”

As an aerodrome, the facility is able to host private flying, some commercial use, flight training schools and could be used as a staging ground for aerial wildfire abatement. “Our airport is incredibly well positioned in terms of wildfire fighting. It could be used for storage of aviation fuel. There are 20 or 25 uses the province has said are good uses for this kind of airport,” he noted.

The ACRD has up to $10,000 set aside in its 2020 budget for the visioning process, and has also applied for a rural dividend grant.

The request for proposals should go out this week, ACRD chief administrative officer Doug Holmes said. “We’re going to try and get back to the advisory committee with the consultant in October,” he added.


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