The Alberni Valley Regional Airport re-opened to limited air traffic on Sunday, May 21, and already aviation traffic has picked up.
Construction to the runway is two months behind schedule after closing last July for an expansion.
The first aircraft to land on the newly expanded runway was a Cessna 172 piloted by Pat Floyd and owned by the Alberni Flying Club, which had been temporarily relocated to the Qualicum Beach Airport so club members could still use their plane. The second aircraft to land was another Cessna, this one owned by Ray Bowerman of Nanaimo.
“We had insider information” that the airport was going to open on Sunday, said Ray’s co-pilot and wife Marilyn. Their family business, Bowerman Excavating, has the contract for the runway expansion, so they knew the initial paving was completed.
The third aircraft to land, and the most exciting for the small crowd gathered at the airport, was a 727 jet coming in from Tucson, Arizona, for maintenance at the Coulson Aviation hangar.
The expansion is not quite finished, so pilots expecting to land in Port Alberni need prior permission from airport superintendent Mark Fortune. Construction and painting of the runway markings was to continue this week, and the contractor will work around planes needing to land at the airport.
“We probably have another month and a half before we’ll have an official opening,” Fortune said. “We’ll have a soft opening with approximately 2,200 feet sometime in early June; that will allow us to have the lights finished and the painting finished.
“At the east end of the field we still have to put civil works in the ground. It’s finally dried out; that’s been the major setback. We’re almost two months behind schedule with the weather we’ve had this spring.”
Airport lighting should be completed and fully operational by mid-July, he said.
The 727 won’t be the only jet the airport will see: Coulson Aviation has purchased six 737-300s for conversion to air tankers, according to fireaviation.com.
“This aircraft will be converted to an airtanker and is why the airport expansion was so important to us,” Wayne Coulson said, adding that he expects the first B 737-300 to arrive sometime this week.
Coulson Aviation has already been converting C-130 aircraft with new tank systems. In 2016 it was announced that Coulson Aviation won a United States Air Force contract to design, manufacture, and install up to seven 3500 US Gallon Aerial Retardant Delivery Systems in C-130H model aircraft.