As we enter the final month of the year, winter’s chill becomes ever stronger and the cold nickname of ‘Cancelgar’ comes back to haunt the West Kootenay Regional Airport.
For many years now the local airport has been plagued by cancellations and delays, but this year the city has plans to make that a notion of the past.
The City is in negotiations with Air Canada hoping to introduce Required Navigation Performance (RNP) systems into a number of the planes.
RNP is a type of performance-based navigation (PBN) that allows an aircraft to fly a specific path between two 3D-defined points in space.
RNP approaches allow aircraft to follow these precise three-dimensional curved flight paths through congested airspace, around noise sensitive areas, or through difficult terrain.
“It’s a navigational approach that gets loaded into the computer system on planes and allows us to drop the ceiling height restriction from approximately 3,000 feet to 2, 000 feet,” said Coun. Florio Vassilakakis.
“Essentially what that does for us is, when you look outside and it’s cloudy or foggy the planes won’t have trouble landing.”
This is by no means new technology.
In 1996, Alaska Airlines became the first airline in the world to utilize an RNP system with its approach down the Gastineau Channel into Juneau, Alaska.
Since then, many airlines and countries around the globe have implemented the technology.
A strong pursuer and advocate for economic development in Castlegar, Vassilakakis believes the airport to be a major player in the growth of the community.
“Now moving through the winter time it comes back to the forefront that our airport needs to become more reliable. The airport is very important for economic development and our potential to truly become the hub of the West Kootenays,” he said.
“People have known Castlegar for a very long time to have unreliable service in the winter time. Once that RNP gets approved and Air Canada buys in to providing the planes, or whether West Jet comes here when we have that as well, it comes down to 75 per cent of the current flights being canceled, instead being able to land.”
Reducing the number of cancellations by three quarters is not something to be taken lightly.
Vassilakakis added, “Once people realize that we have a reliable service, all of the sudden, instead of losing people to Spokane or losing people to Kelowna, we can truly compete and connect people to the rest of the world through Castlegar.”
He continued to say they can then increase and drive traffic from people who have skiing holidays and the like.
The airport can in turn start promoting themselves in conjunction with ski hills, heli-skiing and cat-skiing as a true option for getting into the area.
“Right now that just isn’t an option,” Coun. Vassilakakis said.
“A lot of people are flying into Cranbrook and Kelowna.”
Of course this is great news for Castlegar and the Regional Airport but Vassilakakis doesn’t intend to put the airport down in any way. In fact, he believes it gets a worse rap than it deserves.
“We actually don’t have that bad of reliability when you look at the entire year. Most planes land. There are some stretches in there when you have some bad weather and everybody focuses on that.”
The RNP would make a significant difference. Citizens can plan their holidays and book flights, and be confident that they can get out of here on time.
While news of the new system is slow to arrive, Coun. Sue Heaton-Sherstobitoff is hopeful that they will receive good news from Air Canada by the time the New Year is upon us.