The Tofino/ Long Beach Airport has seen a lot of upgrades throughout the 23 years that Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District airport superintendent Mark Fortune has been at the site.
As a site caretaker at the Tofino Airport for Transport Canada since 1992, a contractor through Tofino Air for the ACRD since 2000 and directly employed by the ACRD for the past two years, Fortune has seen massive improvements to the West Coast as a result of the upgrades.
“We’ve been very successful,” Fortune said, but added that it’s taken around a dozen years for all the upgrades to be completed via the Airport Capitalization Program.
“We had our primary [5,000-foot] runway ground down and re-asphalted… that was a $3.8 million project,” he said. They’ve also built a terminal building, a maintenance building to store equipment, a new runway sweeper and are in the process of getting a snowplow truck.
Investing the money has gotten results—the upgrades were finished in 2012 and since then, traffic has increased by more than 1,500 flights, from 4,549 in 2012 and 6,081 in 2014.
This year is on track to be as busy as 2014, Fortune said.
Scheduled flights began at the Tofino Airport prior to the upgrades but Fortune said he’s seen massive increases in traffic with the upgrades.
“We’ve definitely seen a huge increase in scheduled traffic,” he said, though he was careful to point out that the West Coast and the Alberni Valley are in different situations—in part due to Tofino and Ucluelet’s designation as resort municipalities, which attracts more tourists.
“You’ve got a natural draw—you’ve got the UNESCO biosphere zone, you’ve got Pacific Rim National Park, there’s fishing, there’s surfing… there’s a bunch of draws in this neck of the woods.”
Fortune also cautioned that even if the runways in Tofino and the Alberni Valley Regional Airport are the same length, conditions are still different. Tofino’s busiest time is the summer tourist season but that might not play out as well in the Alberni Valley.
“The thing that creeps in with the Port Alberni situation is a thing called density altitude— that is, the hotter it gets the thinner the air gets. So the less performance you can expect from an aircraft,” Fortune said.
Tofino’s average summer temperatures are in the early 20s [degrees Celsius], Fortune said, while the Valley reaches the mid 30s. Tofino is only 80 feet above sea level, while the Alberni Valley’s airport is actually 250 feet above sea level.
“What happens is that you can pull a full load out of Tofino at 21 [degrees] but in Port Alberni it’s 35 so your performance is almost cut in half,” he said.
“So technically you’d need at least a good third more [of runway length] to operate the same place with the higher temperature.”
Fortune added that while that is a safety factor that aviation companies and pilots will have to consider, it’s only one of many factors that are considered when deciding whether or not an airport is suitable.