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Council sends aviation improvement beacon

Longer runway and new guidance system will improve travel

Commercial air travel in and out of Powell River will be improved after a new guidance system is installed and the runway lengthened.

During the Thursday, April 2, City of Powell River Council meeting, Councillor Jim Palm said the two airport initiatives are an important item for the future of Powell River. The airport will be modernized with the installation of a GPS system, which will have a significant effect on the capacity for aircraft to land at Powell River airport when atmospheric conditions are less than ideal. Palm said the installation of the GPS system would lower the minimum ceiling height required for aircraft to land in Powell River during inclement weather.

Based on statistics from previous years, having the system in place would provide an additional 24 flights a year that would ordinarily be cancelled without the GPS system in place.

Palm said the city is also planning to apply for funding to lengthen the runway. The longer runway would provide for higher capacity on the passenger aircraft serving the community. Currently, because of runway length, commercial flights can only operate at 86 per cent capacity. The runway extension would allow aircraft to be filled to 91 per cent capacity, meaning 1,380 additional passengers a year could travel to Powell River.

According to a report from Tor Birtig, the city’s director of infrastructure, the GPS approach will lower the ceiling height from 510 feet to 330 feet for commercial and helijet aircraft flying into the airport. “This reduction will increase the reliability of the commercial carrier from 95 to 97 per cent, allowing an additional 24 flights, or 570 passengers per year, to land in Powell River during inclement weather,” Birtig stated. “To lower the ceiling height, there are many trees on private and city property that will require to be topped or removed. The cost for the tree removal is neutral as a result of the revenue expected from the sale of the trees.”

Birtig said city staff has also investigated the costs associated with extending the runway. The proposed extension of the runway from 3,600 to 3,900 feet would have a capital cost of $320,000. An extension of the runway to 4,100 feet would increase the aircraft capacity to 96.5 per cent, or 2,750 additional passengers per year, with a capital cost of $2,115 million.

Council unanimously carried a recommendation that it endorse reclassification of the Powell River airport as set out by Transport Canada, from non-instrument to non-precision, and that staff be directed to: develop and implement a cost-neutral airport tree removal plan in consultation with Powell River Community Forest and affected private property owners; and proceed with the design and installation to extend the existing airport runway to 3,900 feet, at a cost not to exceed $320,000, funded from the Community Works Fund.