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Market analysis a critical next step in better air service for Castlegar

A recent survey sent out to regional businesses by Vancouver-based consultancy Operations Economics Inc.  via the Chamber of Commerce asking detailed questions about business use of local flights and airport services seems to be causing some confusion among residents as to what the city hopes to gain in the process.

The information garnered, according to city councillor Kevin Chernoff, will actually help the city in creating a solid business model to induce carriers like our current one, Air Canada, or prospective ones like West Jet, to increase the air capacity for the city – including the systems, aircraft and operators to allow for more reliable landings and take-offs.

“When approaching West Jet, we can’t just say, ‘Look, Castlegar’s a great community,’” Chernoff said. “We need hard numbers and statistics to get them to invest here, which is a necessary next step.”

He said part of the issue impacting flight take-offs and landings could be alleviated with something called a RNP (Registered Navigation Procedure) system, which the city was all set to design and create years ago.

“We committed to design this system, kind of like a GPS, and Transport Canada said okay,” Chernoff explained. “Just before we pulled the trigger on it, Transport Canada changed their minds.”

At this point, Transportation Canada indicated they would have NavCanada design the system at no cost to Castlegar, but there would be a wait involved.

“We’re still waiting,” Chernoff said. “We went back to looking at doing it ourselves, or contracting it out, and Transport Canada said no, they would not accept that.”

City manager John Malcolm said NavCanada indicated they would only install the system in Castlegar if there was a business case for it.

“A business case means we’d need a carrier that would use the RNP,” Malcolm said. “All of West Jet’s planes (have RNP capability), and Air Canada has Q-400s (which also do), but that’s not the kind of plane Air Canada is currently flying into Castlegar.”

He said the current survey is part of a market analysis that will provide the kind of information carriers need when deciding whether to increase business to our airport – which would provide the business case NavCanada is demanding.

“The survey is to determine how much new trade we’d be able to capture (with more reliable flights),” he said. “It may seem like a complicated process, but the city has always been, and remains, very committed to following that process such that local residents and businesses enjoy the best possible air service, despite our challenging mountain environment.”

He also clarified a perception that the city need only invest in better landing lights or similar equipment to rectify the current issue.

“That’s not the situation – the problem isn’t when it’s dark and you’re 20 feet off the ground and need to see the runway. It’s when it’s fogged in and rainy, and you’re 1,500 feet about the ground, flying around Mount Sentinel. Landing lights won’t fix that – but the RNP would certainly help.”

Malcolm said he expects the report will be issued early in the New Year, at which point council can begin crafting a marketing strategy to get Castlegar’s hopes of an RNP system – thus fewer cancellations - off the ground.

Chernoff concluded by saying that Castlegar could spend money upgrading equipment and software, but without Transport Canada’s approval, even the best system on our end would a terrible waste of millions of taxpayer dollars.

“Doing it this way is the only option available to us right now. It’s proactive, and is addressing what NavCanada says they need to make this happen.”