This morning, council received the Dawson Creek Airport Sustainability Plan that was prepared over the last several weeks by Greg Mitchell of McElhanney Consulting Services and Patricia Maloney of Patricia Maloney and Associates. The study includes recommendations for improvements to the airport over the short, medium and long-term, with the intention of providing better service to users and ensuring that the airport can grow as the city does.
Mitchell said their community consultations indicated that the main issues with service are the timing of the one flight per day to Vancouver that is currently offered, and the lack of flights going east, and specifically, into Alberta. Maloney said increasing the number of flights to and from Dawson Creek is ultimately going to be in the hands of the airline carriers, but she said the city could build a business case to try to attract more carriers here.
“An airline won’t run a flight in unless they’re basically guaranteed an 80 per cent passenger load,” she said. “You need to do more study and assessment on who is using the airport, who isn’t using the airport and where people are going.”
She said that could be accomplished through a “ticket pull” that would identify addresses of travellers using the Fort St. John and Grande Prairie airports to determine the true level of demand for flights in and out of Dawson Creek. However, it was noted in a supplemental report received from airport manager Ian Darling that a ticket pull would not identify individuals using Internet booking, or who drive instead of fly to their destinations, though those numbers could be estimated. A ticket pull is estimated to cost about $25,000.
Also in the short term (within three years), the consultants recommended moving the pilot’s lounge from the current trailer unit attached to the terminal building to the NavCan tower next to the terminal, the second floor of which is unoccupied and has the necessary amenities to accommodate both a pilot’s lounge and airport administration offices. Maloney said pilots have a lot of influence on where a plane will land, specifically in regards to private planes, and a new lounge could go a long way to make sure pilots of private jets continue to fly into Dawson Creek. That recommendation was one that Darling does not support as he stated in his report that might dissuade pilots from using the restaurant inside the terminal building, though Maloney argued pilots would still use the restaurant. The renovation of the NavCan tower is estimated to cost $20,000.
There were also recommendations in the short term for increasing marketing of the airport, and investigating a new governance model that could involve other municipalities in the region that benefit from the airport, at a cost of about $10,000.
In the mid-term (three to six years), the consultants recommended construction of an airplane hanger and expansion of the airport apron to accommodate the maintenance and overnight accommodation of aircraft, at an estimated cost of $600,000. Maloney said ensuring that aircraft to be secured overnight would allow carriers to offer early morning flights out of the city.
The consultants recommended the City attempt to reacquire land adjacent to the airport, and relocate the nearby public works yard, in order to generate revenue opportunities for the airport through the leasing of that land, as well as to accommodate possible future expansion of the runway and to limit other developments in the area that could restrict what planes can fly in and out of the airport. The estimated cost for that proposal is $100,000.
There was also a recommendation for the City to hire an economic development officer in the mid-term whose responsibilities would include pursuing funding and other opportunities for the airport, at a cost of $150,000.
As for expansion of the runway, the consultants recommended it wasn’t immediately necessary, and only in the long term (six years or more) if needed to accommodate the safe landing of larger jet airliners. They listed several aircraft that can accommodate up to 50 passengers and still land safely on the exiting 5,000-foot runway. A runway expansion of 1,000 to 1,500 feet is estimated to cost between $8 million and $14 million.
“A runway extension is not the be-all and end-all, but given your short-term work and your negotiations with airlines, you may find out that is what is required for the airport,” said Maloney. “I would caution you, though, that just because an airline says they will fly there just because you have a longer runway doesn’t mean they actually will if you extend the runway, and there have been several airports that have been burned by that.”
Council did not approve any of the recommendations, but instead referred the study to its 2012 strategic planning sessions where councillors will determine how to proceed within the scope of next year’s budget.
The full study, along with the summary prepared by the City’s director of corporate administration, and the response to the recommendations prepared by Ian Darling, can be viewed online at https://dawsoncreek.civicweb.net/Documents/DocumentList.aspx?ID=37529 under “Reports” item 7.1.
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