Thursday, July 31, 2014

Seaplane operator feeling the pinch as work gets underway at Prince Rupert Airport

Construction work taking place at the Prince Rupert Airport may end up costing the community jobs.

The Prince Rupert Airport Authority sent out letters earlier this month outlining plans to start construction on July 21, construction that will reduce the length of the runway to less than 4,000 feet for a portion of the work.

That length is not suitable for private jets, which Inland Air owner Bruce MacDonald said has resulted in the redirection of flights for high-end clientele visiting fishing lodges in the region. Rather than landing in Prince Rupert and boarding a seaplane at Digby Island to reach the lodge, many of those flight will be landing in Sandspit where lodge patrons will board helicopters.

"I am looking at a loss of close to $100,000. I am probably going to have to lay off seven to eight people and I have a leased aircraft I am probably going to have to give back," he said.

"August is our busiest month. It's when we try to get our nut to get through the winter and then we get our throats cut like this ... I know our airport needs works and it needs to be done, just don't do it during the busiest month of the year."

Plans also call for the instrument landing system and the precision approach path indicator system to be disabled and, in the later part of the month, no airplanes other than "scheduled carriers" will be able to park at the airport.

Despite those changes, the biggest sticking point for MacDonald is a lack of consultation and a tight timeline, something he said eliminated any possible solution being found to keep the flights landing in Prince Rupert.

"Somebody made the decision to do this in August without consulting myself or any of the airport users ... and it is probably because there would have been such an outcry against this," he said.

Prince Rupert Airport manager Rick Reed said doing the project in August was necessitated by not only the type of work but by the timeframe imposed.

"The main thing is the weather period, though we do have a couple of constraints. Approximately 90 per cent of the $10 million from the federal government needs to be spent in this fiscal year and paving is weather sensitive ... if the weather is nice, it will take approximately 30 days to complete, so we couldn't risk getting into the wet fall period," he said, noting people knew the project was coming.

"People have known about this for three years. What we didn't know was the exact schedule, but we knew it would be during the summer time."

While the project is proceeding, Reed said the subject was one that the airport authority would be discussing in the future.

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