Councillor Batycki Questions WestJet Solution for Castlegar Airport
Candace Batycki doesn’t want more flights or more airlines at the Castlegar airport because the increase in traffic would lead to greater carbon emissions.
At the June 11 Nelson City Council meeting, Councillor Batycki spoke against a motion that would support an effort by municipal leaders in the West Kootenay to lobby WestJet to run scheduled flights from Castlegar to and from Calgary and Vancouver.
Castlegar Mayor Lawrence Chernoff is spearheading the initiative, which is based on the premise that more flights would make the region more attractive to economic development.
Show me the numbers
“I would need to be shown that that is the case,” says Batycki. “I don’t believe it is necessarily true— I think it is a kind of Holy Grail. But show me the numbers; show me who we are competing with, and for what. I think it is easy to say it, but I have not seen anyone back that up or put any criteria around it.”
The proposal also notes that Air Canada has been gradually cutting back service levels.
“What I have heard is that there would be cheaper flights,” says Batycki. “Some people have said there will be more flights because there will be two airlines and competition. Some people have said, no, we won’t have two airlines, we will have one, and it will be cheaper, and that will be WestJet.”
The impact of flying
Batycki says these arguments are “based on climate change denial and the denial of the impact of flying. More flights is not what we need, and cheaper flights are not what we need. To me it is a perverse incentive. If we are serious about preventing climate change for future generations, then we should not create incentives for doing more of the very things we know cause global warming.”
“How are we going to encourage people to ride-share, if it is cheaper to hop on a plane? How are we going to encourage people to make sure their car is full when they drive to the coast if it is cheaper to fly?”
The motion to lobby WestJet passed five to two, with Batycki and Councillor Donna Macdonald opposing it.
An economist’s view
David Gillen thinks the overtures to WestJet are reasonable. He is the Director of the Centre for Transportation Studies at UBC, and a professor of transport economics.
Gillen agrees that Air Canada’s prices in Castlegar are abnormally high, and that from an economic point of view competition is needed.
“Given that the area depends a great deal on tourism,” he says, “and has a great opportunity and reputation as an area where people really care about the environment, what you ought to do is promote that and you are going be able to do that more if you have greater connectivity with the world than if you don’t, so I think increasing services is important for having what I would call a sustainable environment both environmentally as well as financially.”
WestJet: environmentally friendly?
Gillen says WestJet is relatively environmentally friendly. “WestJet has announced it is going to be flying the (78 passenger) Q400 which is the Bombardier Dash 4, and it is going to be serving smaller centres. The Q400 is much more fuel efficient and has much lower emissions than (Air Canada’s) Dash 8 (50 passengers), so even if WestJet replaced Air Canada, emissions would go down, just from a technology point of view.”
Gillen also said the jury is out on whether automobile travel or air travel uses more carbon per person, and that it depends on a lot of factors including whether highway construction and maintenance are included in the calculation.
“That may be the case, and I would be happy to look at those numbers,” Batycki says, referring us to this graph and to the writings of British journalist George Monbiot, a leading proponent of cutting back on aviation worldwide.
The price of carbon
“But at the end of the day," she says, "we will not really know until we start pricing carbon. We have a gas tax at the moment at the pump but we don’t really have a pricing mechanism for carbon that provides an incentive for us to do these calculations. Right now it is just a matter of our individual pocket books that says, gas is really expensive so I am going to walk, flying is expensive so will I drive or make fewer trips."
Mayors Chernoff and Dooley will meet with WestJet in Calgary on June 26.