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Rossland supports West Kootenay Regional Airport pitch for West Jet service
Rossland will send a letter to support the West Kootenay Regional Airport's (WKRA) pitch to get West Jet service into Castlegar.
Coun. Kathy Wallace raised the motion as a late addition to the agenda at last week's regular council meeting on June 11.
"Part of the time constraint is that this [issue] is coming to the East End Services Committee on June 19," Wallace explained. "If it is positive there, it goes to regional district (RDKB) board for a special voting resolution, so a letter of support can go from the whole board."
Mayor Greg Granstrom offered some background, noting that 39 communities "from across Canada" will be in Cranbrook on June 28 to present to West Jet.
"[WKRA] is looking for as much support as possible to help the pitch,” Granstrom said. “As we know, [WKRA] is a full service airport. It has a terminal, it has security, [and] a runway long enough to accommodate West Jet."
Granstrom also noted that WKRA is "run by the City of Castlegar [so] there's no drain on taxpayer dollars as there would be for improvements to the [Trail] airport owned by the RDKB."
To become a viable destination for West Jet, the mayor said Trail's airport would have to extend the runway, expand the terminal building, and hire full time staff at taxpayer expense.
Wallace said, "I'm in support of the initiative. It would be incredibly valuable to the whole region to have West Jet come to the Castlegar airport."
Coun. Spearn asked if other municipalities and organizations in the region were also in support. The mayor responded with certainty that Castlegar and Nelson were in support, and also organizations like the Lower Columbia Initiatives Corporation. He believed Trail had lent its support, but he didn't know for sure.
Spearn said, "I appreciate that the airport in Castlegar is size-wise more significant—and if it's not going to be a burden on taxpayers, it makes sense to go ahead with that like you [the mayor] said."
“But is this going to create any animosity between us and those who are in favour of expanding the Trail regional district airport?” Spearn asked.
Wallace said, "It's a priority for both airports to improve air accessibility for the entire region. West Jet would do that. West Jet is more of a regionally-run air carrier than is Air Canada or Air Jazz."
She added that she saw the relationship between the two airports as a "partnership."
"Some may view this [pitch for West Jet for the WKRA] as something that works against our Trail Regional Airport," she said, "but I don't see it that way. Having Trail Regional sitting there as competition against Castlegar's airport helps us keep fares lower."
Wallace concluded, "If West Jet comes to the area, it will further benefit us all. I think this could be a huge economic benefit to our region."
The mayor concurred, "I think what we all want is reliable air transportation for the region."
Coun. Cary Fisher commented, "I'm obviously in favour of writing the letter. I'm also a big supporter of the Trail airport.
"The volunteers at the Trail airport put in countless hours down there chasing birds away, washing toilets, all that kind of stuff," he said. "I think of Mr. [Don] Nutini, [the airport's chief attendant,] who has basically driven up to my business for information so he can put it at the airport. There are very few other organizations that are volunteer-like that have been so proactive.
"I think they've also helped push Castlegar a little bit in terms of air access," he added. "I don't think we can lose sight of the volunteers who volunteer down at that airport in Trail for all these years and got it going. It's been a benefit to our business and a benefit to our community."
The mayor commented, "It's unfortunate that new regulations might drive that volunteerism effort out—regulations by Nav Canada et cetera."
Nav Canada is “a private sector, non-share capital corporation financed through publicly-traded debt,” that “provides air traffic control, flight information, weather briefings, aeronautical information services, airport advisory services and electronic aids to navigation.”
Fisher concluded, "I also see this [pitch to West Jet] as a great opportunity for us."
He recalled a flight when Fisher had sat beside one of West Jet’s vice presidents and had talked about whether West Jet would ever come to Castlegar or Trail.
Fisher recounted, "He was concerned because his mother lives in Kamloops and they didn't have a flight into Kamloops. He said, 'Not before my mother can get a flight on West Jet will you get one!'"
Council passed Wallace's motion unanimously.