A new weather station that was built this summer  took neighbours and those that walk on the flats near the airport by surprise. Plans to expand the airport are being developed

A new weather station that was built this summer took neighbours and those that walk on the flats near the airport by surprise. Plans to expand the airport are being developed

Expansion planned for Revelstoke Airport

Lengthened and widened runway, new navigation system, safety plan part of effort to bring in commercial flights to boost tourism

The City of Revelstoke and the Columbia Shuswap Regional District have earmarked about $765,000 for upgrades to the Revelstoke Airport, including extending and widening the runway, upgrading the terminal building and improving navigation systems.

Some parts of the plan are still preliminary and are tentatively scheduled to happen in the next few years, such as the physical renovations to the runway. Other parts of the overall renovation are either completed or underway.

The budget allocation for the project came to light in the City of Revelstoke’s Resort Development Strategy for 2012–2016. That document outlines funding plans for the city’s Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI) funding.

The report calls for $365,000 in RMI funding to be spent on the project, and also flags a $400,000 budget allocation from the Columbia Shuswap Regional District (CSRD), although the latter allocation must first gain approval from the CSRD board.

“The goal is to improve the airport initially to attract regular charters to bring tourists to Revelstoke, and eventually to develop the airport to enable the implementation of a regularly scheduled air service,” writes City of Revelstoke economic development director Alan Mason in a report presented to city council in November. Council voted to approve the funding plan, although that doesn’t also signal final approval for the physical works.

Mayor David Raven is a city representative on the Revelstoke Airport management committee. Raven said the issue is plain; the runway is too short. Currently, the runway is just under 3,000 feet. Ideally, it would be 6,500 feet. That’s not feasible at this point. That would mean extending it towards the Big Eddy through Machete Island. That’s not what’s happening here, Raven said.

He said the proposed work to expand the runway would mean adding turnarounds to either end of the runway, each one adding about 100 feet to the runway. “They’re not major extensions of the runway,” he said. “Although as much as that would be desirable, I just don’t see that at this time.”

Other works include some minor improvements to the airport terminal buildings as well as the implementation of a new navigation system and a safety system.

The computerized navigation system aids airplanes in their take-offs and landings, while an additional safety management plan is currently being developed. The safety management document is a pre-requisite for commercial flight.

“It gets busier and busier all the time. There’s more and more private jets coming in,” Raven said. “There will be more and more private use as well as maybe the opportunity for some commercial use. I know the resort are very keen to have more standardized service coming in.” Raven said the eventual goal is to implement regular commercial service.

CSRD Area B representative Loni Parker is another representative on the airport management committee. She notes the bulk of the $765,000 in funding will be for the extensions to the runway. Although mayor Raven said it was news to him, Parker also said part of the plan was to widen the runway by an extra five metres. This would allow certain larger airplanes to land on the strip. The bulk of the money is earmarked for the runway work. Parker said it would cost about $650,000 and would still require other funding partners as well as approval from the CSRD board of directors.

“We would have to take a look at what kinds of grants we have available,” Parker said. “It’s all subject to change based on the projects that come forward.” She noted that in the past Revelstoke Mountain Resort had also expressed interest in opening the airport to international flights.

Consultation, environmental issues and physical constraints are concerns

The airport is located on city land but is operated by the CSRD. Because of this jurisdictional overlap, plans and approvals are not usually discussed at the city council level and receive far less public attention and scrutiny than other city business. Recent construction of a new weather station at the Revelstoke Airport flew under the neighbours’ radar until a big construction fence was built in late spring.

At the time, CSRD Area B director Loni Parker said it was a mistake not to issue a press release notifying residents of the work, but she also noted the land was airport property and not park land.

Likewise with the planned runway expansion, there has been little in the way of public consultation to date.

Laura Stovel was recently appointed as president of the North Columbia Environmental Society. She noted that the slough and wetland areas surrounding the airport is an ecologically sensitive area. It is rare and unique habitat for wildlife including resident and migratory birds. It’s also home to the threatened Western Painted turtle. In fact, part of the most diverse habitat between the airport and Cashato Bench was partially created when fill was excavated to help create the airport.

Stovel said the NCES hadn’t been consulted about changes to the airport. Proximity to an expanded and busier airport poses issues for wildlife, especially birds, Stovel notes. Many airports have bird management programs designed to avert collisions between planes and birds. Essentially, the programs seek to keep birds away. “Wouldn’t that be terrible?” Stovel said.

She also notes the flatlands and marshes around the airport are popular recreation spots for activities such as bird-watching, walking and cycling. Pathways near the airport are the only access points for some distance on either side. Stovel is seeking more information on the planned expansion, as well as consultation.

Some kind of commercial service to Revelstoke Airport has long been a dream for some, one that has nearly seen fruition. In 2008, an Alberta-based charter company started advertising regular runs from Revelstoke to Calgary. The plan fell through just before it was scheduled to start. At the time, a representative from the company told the Times Review their partners at Revelstoke Mountain Resort had pulled the plug at a time when the resort was undergoing ownership changes.

However, the airport is physically constricted. It sits at the bottom of a narrow mountain valley lined with alpine peaks. In winter, it’s often socked in with fog or low clouds.

This summer, I stopped my bicycle by the airport fence, joining other motorists who had stopped to watch a small spectacle unfold. The large firefighting aircraft stuck out from the usual traffic of hobby planes and helicopters. The pilot revved up the engine and charged down the runway. The sound of the roaring engines echoed across the valley as the plane corkscrewed upwards, skimming not too far above the lower slopes of Mt. Macpherson then Mt. Mackenzie as it gained altitude.

What new types of planes and services the new safety management plan and navigation system will facilitate remains to be seen. Although Castlegar Airport has had commercial flights for years, the frequent fog cover has earned it the nickname ‘Cancelgar’ for obvious reasons.

Part 1 of an ongoing series exploring renovation plans for the Revelstoke Airport. Have a comment? Contact Aaron Orlando at editor@revelstoketimesreview.com.