Nelson council voted on January 9 to contribute $10,000 to the City of Castlegar to help fund a $260,000 study into improvements to the airport in order to improve landing performance. Several electoral areas of the Regional District of Central Kootenay have also contributed.
The Nelson council decision was made unanimously with very little discussion. The money will come from the city’s airport reserve fund which normally funds the Nelson airport.
The American aviation company Jeppesen will conduct the study, which will be completed by July. Jim Gouk, an aviation consultant and the former MP for the West Kootenay area, is working for the city of Castlegar as its liaison with Jeppesen.
Consultant disagrees with national airport authority
Gouk disagrees with some aspects of a 2016 Star article which quoted experts at Nav Canada who said RNP (Required Navigation Procedure) for landing is used widely and might improve the situation at Castlegar, but that no such technology exists to improve take-off. They said airlines are unlikely to fly into an airport where they are not sure they will be able to take off again.
Nav Canada is the company that runs navigational systems in all Canadian airports.
Gouk told the Star recently that RNP technology for improving take-off does exist elsewhere in the world, “mostly Europe and Asia, less in the US, but it has not been approved in Canada by Transport Canada.”
Study has three stages
Gouk says the contract with Jeppesen will follow three steps.
1. Jeppesen will study the situation at Castlegar to see if a RNP landing and take-off capabilities are feasible, and if they are, develop specifications for them.
2. The City of Castlegar would then go to Air Canada and Westjet and ask, “If we get this approved, would you fly it into Castlegar?”
3. If one of the airlines replies, “Yes, we would,” then the city would go to Transport Canada and say, “Here is the RNP approach designed by Jeppesen, here are all specs for it, and here is the airline that says they will fly it. Now we need approval.”
What kind of planes would be needed?
Gouk said theoretically a Dash 8 (the plane Air Canada flies to Castlegar) could be adapted for an RNP system, “but the retrofit would be unjustifiably expensive. The Q400 can do it. That is essentially a next generation Dash 8.”
He said Air Canada owns Q400s, as does Westjet.
Gouk speculated that Air Canada might decide to run Q400s into Castlegar if it knew that the competition (Westjet) might otherwise do it.
Contacted by the Star last week a spokesperson for Air Canada was rather non-committal.
“While we will decline to discuss specifics,” she said, “we can confirm that we are committed to working with all stakeholders to discuss the most prudent operational options at one of Canada’s most challenging airports.”
Westjet told the Star last summer that it has no immediate plans to include Castlegar in its flight schedule but could not comment further.
Approval by Transport Canada uncertain
As for the approval by Transport Canada Gouk said “nothing is guaranteed. They have said if you can demonstrate that it is acceptable with the FAA, that they have qualified people and got the airline ready to fly it, they generally will look favourably on it.”
Transport Canada would look at the system to see if the proposed RNP system would require any exemptions from the agency’s usual safety standards. The use of RNP systems may allow the reduction of those limits.
“But it depends on how many exemptions,” Gouk said. “Even if they are all (individually) things approved by FAA or by Transport Canada, how many of them are needed?
“Because if you get more and more (exemptions), there is always the potential it gets riskier and riskier.”
Contributions from the RDCK
Several areas of the Regional District of Central Kootenay have agreed to contribute to the study:
- Electoral Areas H (Slocan Valley) and J (Lower Arrow/Columbia): $10,000 each
- Electoral Area K (Arrow Lakes) and G (rural Salmo): $5,000 each
- Electoral Area I (rural Castlegar): $2,500.