Airport development in Powell River is progressing.
Mayor Dave Formosa, several years ago, had the idea that Powell River was a good location to attract the aviation industry, due to the fact that the Lower Mainland is “bulging at the seams.” Powell River is just a short hop by airplane, so it has good accessibility.
“It’s a great place for folks to have access to airport land on a long-term lease basis that would give businesses stability and access to a runway that is not super busy,” said Formosa. “It would allow for industry and good-paying jobs and tax base growth in Powell River.”
Long-term leases are not the norm in the aviation industry, said Formosa.
“From what I can see they are all short-term leases and if people build on them, they don’t have a lot of certainty, so we went shopping, looking for investors who would have faith in Powell River and come and build,” said Formosa.
There was some keen interest in the beginning from Pacific Coastal Airlines to locate maintenance and rebuild facilities here, but that interest has waned with the airline’s new business relationship with WestJet. The same went for a business called Upper Valley Aviation, which was interested in locating here, but after a change in management, decided not to come.
Formosa then found out, during a visit to China, about the growing aviation industry there. Private citizens were previously not allowed to own aircraft, but a change in national policy looked like a business opportunity, where refurbished private aircraft could be sold into China. However, regulations do not permit aircraft older than 10 years to be sold.
Formosa’s idea was to find a partner to build a facility here and he found the Gao family in China. An attempt was made to purchase BC aircraft manufacturer Murphy Aviation and locate it here, but the deal that was struck fell through.
The Gao family wanted to carry on regardless, said Formosa. The family wanted a long-term lease and to build a facility here. The belief is that if a facility is built, aviation businesses will locate here, such as pilot schools, paint shops and repair shops for aircraft, said Formosa.
There have also been discussions about building a new terminal building. Formosa explained to the Gao family that the city does not have the capacity to lease a new terminal building.
“They insist it should still happen,” said Formosa. “I explained the only way that would work is if it was made very affordable and workable with Pacific Coastal Airlines. A new terminal would be awesome because our dinky little terminal doesn’t give the city any justice and it’s not as functional as could be.”
Formosa said Gaoshi Holdings has leased 4.6 hectares of airport land for a 99-year period, paying a little more than the appraised value.
“Nobody else is trying to buy it, nobody else is knocking on the door, nobody else is wanting to come here and invest patient capital,” said Formosa. “I was delighted that the Gao family said they were going to carry on regardless of whether they could manufacture aircraft. They’ve had to hire an aviation engineer just to clear the property and work within the rules and regulations of Transport Canada. Now they are seeking an engineering/architectural firm to start working on concrete plans for phase one of their project.”
A development permit proposal has been filed with the city.