Column: Council Comment

Council comment by Councillor Florio Vassilakakis

At this time of year we are reminded of the beautiful place in which we live: a winter wonderland surrounded by treecovered mountains situated high up top the Selkirk mountain range, a city located at the source of the mighty ColumbiaRiver.

We work and live here because we love the lifestyle that only this fantastic place can provide. Yet, we almost always forget that this same gorgeous setting, its terrain and weather, make our airport one of the most challenging to land at in North America.

I believe it’s time we celebrate where we live and stop poking fun at our airport’s disability. She’s ours and ours to be proud of (even if we sometimes get stranded). The airport’s difficulties are a product of where we live and at present it’s a tradeoff that we all seem to believe is worth it.

During my first election campaign I made “fixing” the airport a key priority. I, like many of you, believed that council wasn’t doing enough to improve its reliability. I found out quickly that that was simply not true. It is also not the case today. This is one of council’s top strategic priorities and we have doubled down our efforts. We are attacking this issue head on and fromevery possible angle. Tourism, economic development, healthcare, business and our holiday getaways depend on our abilityto get this done.

Let’s focus for a moment on what we do have: a great modern facility, serviced by a major and well respected carrier that is kept safe and secure with passenger screening by Canadian Air Transport Security Authority. The operation is self-sufficientand financially independent; one that is not reliant on the city’s taxpayers. Not many municipal airports can boast of the same. This solid base lays the foundation for a positive future.

Some of you may still be wondering what we are doing. Because I agree too that the fluff written above still hasn’t answeredyour questions. Unfortunately, I can’t share with you everything we are working on because most of what we do do isconfidential and it is so for good reason. No sense on showing everyone the cards you hold.

What I can tell you is this; the future of reliability at our airport depends on two things: RNP technology and carrier aircraft upgrades. For the city, this isn’t a money issue or as easy as buying something or installing any specific equipment. It is fairly complex. It is in part a technical one with Nav Canada and a corporate strategical one with Air Canada and other carriers.

The technology exists to let planes land here. Its a software/hardware combination that uses GPS. It’s called RNP. Our current cloud ceiling limits are at 3400 ft. The 0.3 implementation of RNP could drop those limits to around 1500 ft. This would allow more than 75 per cent of the current cancelled flights to land without issue. Further improvements to the 0.1 RNP implementation could get us down to 200 ft (similar to Kelowna and Cranbrook).

However, the other part of the solution lies in the aircraft itself. Air Canada currently flys the Dash-8s into Castlegar andhas no immediate plans to upgrade to the newer Q-400 in this market. The Q-400 has the built in hardware to use the RNP technology to land a plane. Both Air Canada and Westjet are adding more and more of these planes to their fleet. In addition, US air carriers and larger jets such as 737s already use RNP. This technology has been used worldwide in otherdifficult terrain airports.

None of this makes it less frustrating to see that “cancelled” notification when you are headed to visit family for the holidays or to relax on a beach in a sunny destination. We feel it too. We understand the implications of the reliability issue duringthese few winter months and are working hard to change it. We are going all-in.

In the meantime, let’s not mock ourselves. Let’s kibosh the word Cancelgar and embrace the fact that we live in such abeautiful place, albeit a slightly foggy, snowy and flightless one during a few short stretches this time of the year. It’s YCG.It’s the West Kootenay Regional Airport. And it’s ours.


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