The service provided by WestJet, if the West Kootenay Regional Airport is successful in its pitch, would not only mean more reliable flights but also potential savings in fuel says former West Kootenay–Okanagan Conservative MP Jim Gouk.
“Where WestJet is using their required navigation procedure approach like Kelowna and Abbotsford airports, they are saving fuel,” he said. “Last year, it strikes me that they saved in the neighbourhood of 700,000 litres of fuel on those two airports alone. That’s phenomenal both in terms of cost to the operation, but also in terms of the environment.”
Gouk, who served as a transportation critic during his time as MP and was also an air traffic controller at the Castlegar Airport, is putting his expertise and background behind the pitch for WestJet service to Castlegar.
“WestJet and Air Canada are using two totally different systems,” he said. “What Air Canada is using is a kind of standard technology which uses ground-based equipment that they call a localizer. What that does is it aligns them in the valley so they know exactly where they are and given where they are, they have different flights that they could descend to.”
Gouk said the idea of the technology used by Jazz is to get the pilot below the clouds and then they are able to finish their landing visually.
“It doesn’t bring them to the airport it brings them to the vicinity of the airport,” he said. “The way this approach works is the point where they would reach their absolute decision and final point is where the airport is actually behind them. The equipment is located down in the industrial park south of Castlegar.”
Cancellations happen at the airport when pilots — for safety’s sake — have a missed approach.
“Even though the pilot can see the ground, if they are still concerned they may have difficulty maneuvering in the valley they will have a missed approach,” said Gouk.
WestJet uses an approach called “required navigation procedure,” which has no ground based equipment whatsoever.
“It’s a satellite-based system that fixes their position combined with onboard equipment, mainly what is known as a flight director — a computer system that essentially flies the plane,” he said. “They can not only come lower, but because the onboard flight management system works with GPS and satellite system, it can fly a curved approach, which means in a mountainous approach they can have an approach directly to a runway even though there is obstructions because this thing will fly them around the obstructions.”
The Regional Airport Authority is also working with Air Canada to find different types of approaches that may allow them to have more reliable service.
“If WestJet came in with the new anticipated lowering limits it would remove some of the stigma that the region has got that it is a difficult place to move into,” said Gouk.
“There are a lot of people that would consider relocating here. There are business here now, Pacific Insight being one of them that’s a big international business who is attracting top engineers and not necessarily because of paying bonus pay, but because of the lifestyle here. A lot of these people look at this and wonder if there is enough reliability for flying in and out.”
Gouk will be joining Nelson mayor John Dooley and Castlegar mayor Lawrence Chernoff in Calgary today in an attempt to lure WestJet services to the West Kootenay Regional Airport.