COLUMN: Why we need a West Kootenay Airport Authority

Columnist John Paolozzi on 'Cancel-gar'

As luck would have it, my wife’s job requires her to fly to conferences during some of the worst months for travel in the West Kootenay. It’s a huge source of stress, as she never knows if she’ll be able to make it in time for her speaking slot, or how long she’ll be stuck couch surfing in Vancouver waiting for the weather to clear before coming home.

So we spend a lot of time watching the clouds on the mountains, cursing “Cancel-gar,” or figuring out how she can re-route to Trail or Cranbrook.

Despite our cursing, we know that the City of Castlegar deserves huge props for trying to make the best out of a bad situation.

They’ve invested considerable time and money in trying to make the airport more accessible in bad weather.

Their latest plan to work with consultants to improve seasonal travel might be a worthwhile investment, but the RDCK should pause before agreeing to contribute to the $260,000 cost of the study.

This isn’t to say that the regional district shouldn’t pick up some of the costs.

In fact, all of the local communities that benefit from the airport should contribute, as it’s not fair that Castlegar has to shoulder the burden for the cost of administering an airport that serves the entire West Kootenay.

But in order to best meet the transportation challenges of the future, it’s time to consider creating an autonomous airport authority to administer air travel in the region.

An airport authority would be set up as a non-profit corporation that operates independently of local governments and, first and foremost, makes decisions based on the interests of air travellers.

Making this happen would require considerable buy-in, as the area in question straddles two regional districts (the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary, and the Regional District of Central Kootenay) and serves nearly 70,000 people living between Grand Forks and Creston.

Complicating things further is the fact that there are technically two competing airports in the area: YCG, operated by the City of Castlegar, and YZZ, operated by the City of Trail, which, to complicate things further, is also in the process of upgrading its facilities.

It’s wonderful that both Castlegar and Trail are gung-ho about improving air service to the area, but pulling in opposite directions doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

It would be better to come together, decide which airport if either is more viable, and then focus the combined resources of the entire West Kootenay to upgrade, or build a single facility that will serve the area’s needs for the next half-century.

A proper analysis would not only review the viability of both the Trail and Castlegar airports, but consider the possibility that neither is optimal and that building a new airport in a more suitable location is the best investment if such a location can be found and developed for a reasonable cost.

It’s likely that neither Trail nor Castlegar would be thrilled with giving up control of their airports, or seeing either one downgraded or deactivated.

But the goal of this plan is to best serve the interests of the 70,000+ people who live in our area.

In the long term, the economic benefits of a modern and reliable airport would more than make up for any loss the either city might incur.

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