Seair floats dock expansion plan

Seair Seaplanes could get a little more room to manoeuvre if its bid for more dock space on Newcastle Island Passage is approved.

The Richmond-based floatplane operator, which operates a seaplane terminal near Zorkin Road, intends to apply to the Ministry of Natural Resource Operations to expand its licence area by just under a half-hectare to a total area of 1.025 hectares.

Peter Clark, Seair president, said the company is not adding flights, but the extra dock space will allow more aircraft to access the terminal simultaneously with greater safety.

The facility can currently handle just two aircraft at a time.

“We’re just on a very small sliver on the water,” Clark said. “We have limited access in and out and it’s a port of entry for customs for U.S. planes – private and commercial. We love it down there, we just want a little more manoeuvering room for our airplanes on Newcastle channel.”

The company proposes building two longer docks, about 33-metres each, instead of the three short docks it now has. The longer docks would allow more separation between boats, which already dock there, and aircraft.

There is no other moorage or marina operations to the immediate north side of the terminal.

“We have three little fingers – one is for planes and the other two are for boats – and we’re circling and waiting out there as planes unload and load now,” Clark said. “We can really get one – it’s really crammed to get two planes in there – and sometimes, when you get somebody who’s clearing customs or taking on fuel or something like that, you need more space.”

While more dock space might ease operations in Nanaimo, a looming $12-per-head per-trip levy could make it tougher to convince passengers to commute to downtown Vancouver by floatplane.

The levy means a one-way flight from Nanaimo to Vancouver with Seair would jump to $87.60 from $75.60.

The fee will be imposed by the new Vancouver Harbour Flight Centre to cover costs for docking, ticket and refueling facilities and to recover the $22 million to build the private facility at the Vancouver Convention Centre.

With up to 350,000 passengers potentially passing through the flight centre each year, it could rake in $4.2 million in fees annually. The centre is scheduled to open in May.

Clark said he worries if operations costs rise or demand for flights through the centre fall, developers will raise fees even higher.

“We have to pass that on to the travelling public,” Clark said. “That increases your air fare and you’ll have less people because there are other modes of transportation.”

Eight floatplane airlines have formed the Vancouver Commercial Seaplane Operators’ Association, a consortium proposing construction of a non-profit terminal east of Canada Place near the Vancouver SeaBus terminal.

It would connect directly with helicopter, seaplane and train services in one facility. Floatplane airlines would put up the $10 million to $12 million estimated cost and, hopefully, other transportation services using the terminal would come on board to share expenses.

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