Skip to content

Powell River Airport closure disruptive to community

Pacific Coastal Airlines will cancel all flight operations for two months; Harbour Air plans to increase services
SHUT DOWN: Pacific Coastal Airlines has been informed that it will not be able to operate flights into Powell River Airport because of a runway construction project planned to start in April.

Powell River Airport’s closure will result in reduced aerial service to the community for a planned two-month period.

At a special meeting of City of Powell River Council on March 14, council unanimously approved letting a contract to Upland Contracting from Campbell River to rehabilitate the runway, resulting in a shutdown that is anticipated to extend into mid-June.

City manager of transportation Cam Reed said at the meeting that there is no good time to shut down the runway. He said because of the technique that will be used by the contractor of pulverizing the runway, as soon as it happens, there is no runway.

Reed said shutting the runway is going to be more cost effective and it allows the contractor to come in without disruption.

“They can do things as effectively and efficiently as they can,” said Reed. “Night work is not anticipated. Day shift is less expensive as well.”

The closure will temporarily suspend all Pacific Coastal Airlines flight and cargo services between Vancouver Airport’s South Terminal and the qathet region from April 8 to June 9, inclusive, according to a media release from Pacific Coastal. 

Quentin Smith, president of Pacific Coastal, acknowledged potential frustrations among passengers and the community, stating, “We understand there may be frustration with this swift closure, and we are diligently working with our teams to notify affected passengers. This runway rehabilitation is imperative for the safety of our passengers, the long-term sustainability of the airport, and the continuity of our service to Powell River. We eagerly anticipate the project’s completion and the resumption of our services for the summer.”

At the special city meeting, councillor Jim Palm said he was hearing concerns from the Powell River Chamber of Commerce board.

“They are not happy that the runway and the airport are going to be out of commission for two months,” said Palm. “They have raised a number of issues to me, such as why aren’t we doing work through the evenings like we did when we upgraded the west end of the runway some time ago? Why aren’t we doing everything possible to alleviate that two-month time span?

“Is there any possibility to limit the downtime of the Pacific Coastal’s operation?”

Reed said the city has done its very best to make that exactly the situation.

“By stating eight weeks, we felt that was quite a tight window in which to accomplish this work,” added Reed. “There was some guidance from our engineering and design firm about just how quickly they thought the work could be done. As far as being able to do nighttime operations, again, the technique of pulverizing the runway makes that an impossibility.”

Director of infrastructure Tor Birtig said the city has worked with the engineer to minimize the closure as much as possible.

“Unfortunately, we have a short runway, so we don’t have the option of utilizing a portion, nor do we have a second runway to alleviate that as well,” said Birtig. “It’s unfortunate, but we looked at a timeline that would assist Pacific Coastal the best we can.”

Passenger options

Pacific Coastal will be contacting customers with reservations booked during the period of the runway closure to offer reservations to be changed to new travel dates at no additional cost or for customers to cancel and receive a full refund.

Birtig said the city has been in touch with Harbour Air, which has a service between downtown Vancouver and Powell Lake, letting that company know about the airport closure.

“It looks like they [Harbour Air] are going to add additional flights, perhaps even towards the Fraser River to the [Vancouver International Airport] south terminal,” said Birtig. “Emergency services have been notified to let them know about this closure, so they will not be able to land their aircraft at the runway, but they have the option for their helicopter base [at qathet General Hospital]. Other options available to us are the Comox airport, as well as Texada in the event of certain emergencies.”

Palm asked staff to elaborate on medical flights.

Reed said the vast majority are with helicopters directly from the hospital for emergency flights out. He said there are some fixed-wing flights that come into the airport, but that’s usually more around icing conditions. He said fixed-wing flights are very infrequent compared to helicopters.

Mayor Ron Woznow said he had a good conversation with Harbour Air, and as staff has indicated, they are doing a lot of planning to increase flights and flight options.

“I am confident that they understand the importance and they see this as an opportunity,” added Woznow.

Jessica Dunn, head of marketing and public affairs at Harbour Air, stated in an email that the airline is currently evaluating the expansion of service to the Powell River area to support the community with sufficient air service during the runway closure, with more detail forthcoming shortly.

Powell River Chamber of Commerce president Dave Formosa also commented on the upcoming closure.

“We are happy to see that the airport project is finally being addressed,” said Formosa. “It’s nice to see the runway being extended somewhat and the angles addressed to allow the larger Saab aircraft to be used to its fullest capabilities. We are thrilled to see the quotes coming in much less than the grant amount.”

Formosa said, however, that the chamber is concerned and not happy to see a total airport closure for two months.

“I was hopeful that given our discussions with councillors and council that it would result in having the airport being able to be open during the construction, even for limited daily access,” said Formosa. “This seems to be backwards for the day and age we live in. We were hoping to see council be more aggressive with minimal airport closures. We are disappointed with this situation.”

Pacific Coastal is in close communication with the city, ensuring that all relevant details are provided to the airline’s customers during this service disruption period, according to its media release. As the project progresses, updates will be provided at with the relevant information.

Join the Peak's email list for the top headlines right in your inbox Monday to Friday.