An Air Canada Jazz flight lands at the West Kootenay Regional Airport in Castlegar.

Regional airport needs improvement, not relocation, say area leaders

With air travellers from Nelson to Grand Forks relying on the airport in Castlegar, the question has been raised: Is this city best suited to host a regional airport?

  • Mar. 14, 2011 8:00 a.m.

Castlegar Mayor Lawrence Chernoff believes the city’s plan to create an airport advisory committee involving representatives from around the West Kootenay will help improve the region’s air transport hub in the near future.

The plan comes off of a particularly a bad winter season at the West Kootenay Regional Airport, with 41 cancellations in the month of December alone.

But with air travellers from Nelson to Grand Forks relying on the airport in Castlegar, the question has been raised: Is this city best suited to host a regional airport?

Tom Thomson, executive director of the Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce, still thinks Castlegar is the right location.

“I believe that there is definitely a need for a solid regional airport, and right now Castlegar is our best bet,” he said.

“Obviously at this time of the year, from November through March it becomes a bit iffy … but it’s obviously weather-related.”

He did say that having flights coming and going on a more consistent basis is important for the region, and while the Nelson Municipal Airport is good for the service it provides now, he didn’t think moving regional services there is a viable option.

“I don’t have a belief that there is any desire to upgrade that airport in Nelson,” Thomson said.

Still, he added the frequent cancellations in Castlegar do cause concern, and the issue has been on the radar of Nelson residents for a long time.

“It has a huge impact on the whole region,” Nelson Mayor John Dooley said of the cancellations. “The unreliability of the airport is probably the single biggest drawback to additional growth in the area.”

Rather than thinking about a different location, Thomson and Dooley both agreed that area communities need to work together on improving the existing regional airport.

“If we work separately, it doesn’t work,” Dooley said. “We need to be on it sooner rather than later because it’s having a significant impact. Every year the impact gets greater. People are choosing options to drive to Cranbrook or to Trail.”

The Castlegar airport is a good site to improve upon, he added, as it’s the most central to the region’s population base.

When the advisory committee for the West Kootenay Regional Airport is struck, Nelson will have a say as one member of Nelson City Council will be a member.

Officials from Trail, meanwhile, say the competition between Air Canada Jazz, which flies out of Castlegar, and Pacific Coastal Air, which flies out of Trail, helps keep ticket prices lower for everyone.

“The Trail airport was established and we continue to ensure two things: the flights in and out from our region are competitive, and that has taken place, and that has saved all our residents in the West Kootenay and our businesses in the sector a lot of money,” Trail Mayor Dieter Bogs said.

“That was one of our prime reasons for pushing and continuing to push for a second airport to ensure that there is competition and it has saved us literally hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Maggie Stayanovich, executive director of the Trail and District Chamber of Commerce, said she tends to look on the bright side of local air travel, because it could always be worse.

“I just know that one can’t control the weather, and we are fortunate that we’re not driving to Kelowna for an airport,” she said.

“I look at it as a positive that we have a choice. If one can’t arrive into Castlegar then you may be able to arrive in Trail, and vice versa.”

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