The importance of regional airports was highlighted during a conference in Nanaimo this week.
Todd Stone, B.C. Minister of Transportation spoke to airport executives from around the province and local officials about the B.C. Liberal government’s recently created air access program during a conference hosted by the British Columbia Aviation Council on Wednesday.
The B.C. Air Access Program was created last year and allocated $24 million for airport infrastructure investment between 2015-17, with $8 million set aside for 2016. The program is specifically designed to focus on investing in infrastructure improvements for smaller and regional airports, such as the Nanaimo Airport.
Stone said the provincial government recognizes the importance of regional airports and the economic impact they have on their communities.
“A dynamic aviation sector is critical to job creation, delivering goods, expanding the market place and facilitating travel,” Stone said.
According to Stone, last year the BC Air Access Program provided $6 million in upgrades to 10 airports across the province, including the Long Beach Airport.
“The single largest investment that we made was $1.2 million to the Long Beach Airport in Tofino that went towards runway lighting,” he said. “And that is going to allow for improving the facility for Medi-vac flights, scheduled flights for residents and the expected increase in tourists.”Remote and regional airports often face more challenges than larger international airports such as Vancouver and Victoria international airports, which can both improve their facilities from money generated from landing fees and airport improvement fees.
“The smaller regional airports, it is often more difficult to raise the dollars through an airport improvement fee due to the [lower] volumes that you might have,” Stone said.The Air Access Program has paid for upgrades to terminals buildings, aprons, taxiways and runways.”All these improvement have allowed … airports to sustain or expand their existing infrastructure to in some cases accommodate larger aircraft, to support more frequent flights and to certainly support continued growth of the local economies and communities,” Stone said.In an interview with the News Bulletin, Stone said regional airports are the lifeblood for communities such as Nanaimo, Campbell River and Cranbrook.”In the context of Nanaimo, there has been tremendous growth of [Vancouver Island University] here with international students,” Stone said. “Having a seamless travel experience coming from overseas is something that parents of kids, who are looking at literally universities around the world, are going to look at how easy and reliable is it to get in and out of the community.”Mike Hooper, president of Nanaimo Airport, said it has applied for grant money from the B.C. Air Access Program, but is still awaiting a decision.