Campbell River-based Cascadia Air has launched a ‘rapid emergency air delivery’ service instead of its planned commuter airline. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)

PROGRESS 2020: A vision for Port Alberni’s regional airport

As interest builds from aviation companies, ACRD focuses on what it wants at the airport

The Alberni Valley Regional Airport’s GPS approach is still in the hands of Nav Canada. Receiving federal approval of this approach is a key to future expansion at the airport.

“It’s in Nav Canada’s hands. They’re reviewing the data,” Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District airport manager Mark Fortune said in May. He admits COVID-19 closures and restrictions have slowed the process, but he is still hopeful the new GPS approach will be active by fall of 2020.

Installation of a new weather station was supposed to happen in March, but the ACRD was still waiting on some of the components.

READ: Alberni Valley Regional Airport to replace aging weather station

The AVRA received a $65,000 B.C. Air Access cost-sharing grant in June 2019 to help pay for the new weather station, which will provide real-time weather data that is required for the Nav Canada application for the GPS approach, Fortune said.

The new weather station, which was to be installed this spring, is another piece of the puzzle: without an on-site weather station any GPS approach into Port Alberni’s airport carries an altitude penalty. At the moment pilots have to rely on reports from weather stations from other locations like Comox, Nanaimo or Tofino (Long Beach Airport).

“We’ll be able to apply for lower altitude with a lower break out,” Fortune explained. Right now, pilots have to be able to see the runway at an altitude that is higher than the Beaufort Mountains surrounding the Alberni Valley. The weather station will give the AVRA a 700- to 800-foot reduction in altitude requirement “which is huge for our airport.”

The Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District’s airport advisory committee has kickstarted meetings again, dealing first with an election of officers and then recommending a letter of support for a small airline to do business at the AVRA.

With the GPS approach well on its way to fruition and interest growing in the airport, the advisory committee is tasked to create a vision for the facility. Former mayor Mike Ruttan was re-elected chair of the airport committee and will lead the way.

“We’ll do that with a consultant,” Ruttan said. “The ACRD has money set aside to assist with that.”

After holding few meetings since its inception, the airport advisory committee will begin the vision process in July.

Ruttan said he is well positioned to help guide the airport’s vision. “I’ve been involved in the airport for quite a while and it’s a particular interest of mine,” he said. “Especially developing it to reach its potential—whatever that potential might be.”

There are complications: the AVRA may be called an airport, but it is classified as an aerodrome. That’s a sticking point to getting regularly scheduled commuter air service, says ACRD manager of environmental services Rob Williams.

READ: New Vancouver Island airline eyes Alberni’s airport for charter flights

The GPS approach is a big step to reclassifying the aerodrome, he said.

While not a certified airport, the AVRA can still be used for charter service or air cargo, flight training schools or aerial firefighting, Fortune said. “What counts in Transport Canada’s world (as commuter service) is bums in seats on a regular service.”

Cascadia Air of Campbell River has indicated interest in running charter air service out of Port Alberni’s airport when demand calls for it.

The aviation company has received ACRD letters of support to operate in both Port Alberni and Tofino.

Ruttan said the airport represents an economic opportunity for the Alberni Valley. “I hope we can help it become even more than it is,” he said.

New hangars are being built and Coulson Aviation is looking at an expansion.

“Our airport is ideally suited for forest firefighting,” Ruttan said.

“It could be more than it is. Geographically, it’s a good location for the Island and the west coast of B.C.”

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