Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Sailing to the airport with a wake of red ink

The Prince Rupert airport and the way Rupertites get there has been the focus of much attention over the last week or so, as concerns over the status of emergency services to the airport and the increasing cost of transportation across the harbour provide for much in the way of discussion points for local coffee shops and lunch rooms.

The sale of the Airport's fire engine to Alberta interests has provided for one item of concern, with some residents keen to learn more about the response plan from the Prince Rupert side of the harbour to the Airport in times of emergency. In other communities the local fire department provides response to airport emergencies, but for the most part those fire halls are within a reasonable drive to the airport location, Prince Rupert's unusual challenges in transportation has the city fire department at least a half an hour away from any potential call.

Council has also been debating and revisiting the problem of rising ferry costs and the need to recover some of that spending through fares on the airport ferry.  Beyond the cost of the moment in salaries and operating expenses for the current ferry, not too far off in the distance will be the need to replace the vessel with a more modern version though no timetable seems to be in place at the moment for that decision.

What is in place however, is the need to increase the current cost of travel across the harbour.

The latest developments as reported by the Northern View have a revision in place to the proposed increase in fees including keeping the status quo of free travel for those that are employed at the airport. Passengers that fly out of Rupert will instead now see a 5 dollar increase to the cost, bringing the total of crossing the harbour to the airport to 19 dollars.

The discussions over issues of concern at the airport come as the airport seeks ways to develop the airport, with one eye warily cast towards the federal government which the airport society fears may be striving to create a regional airport, most likely based in Terrace.

The fears are that by increasing fees to access the airport and charging employees to travel to their employment, that process of consolidation in one location may be sped up.

The week's worth of coverage is provided below as the city attempts to come to terms with what it can provide as far as services go to the airport and how they can recover some of the cost associated with them. And whether city residents will be willing to pay the costs whatever they may be in order to keep their local airport operating.

Airport fees get revised 
Shaun Thomas 
The Northern View 
Tuesday, May 11, 2010 

People who are employed at the airport will be spared having to pay to take the ferry to work after council voted on May 3 to shift the fee increase to airline passengers.

The initial fee schedule called for airport employees to pay either $150 for a monthly passenger vehicle pass, $225 for a monthly pass on the bus or $30 for a round-trip passenger vehicle, something Chief Financial Officer Dan Rodin had included to negate the estimated $24,000 the City pays every year for employee travel. But following a meeting with the Prince Rupert Airport Society, council decided to go another route.

 “The airport society came on a special trip to see council to talk about their concerns over trying to develop the airport and their concerns that it may be the federal government’s wish to create a regional airport and, by creating a regional airport, we were just hurrying things down the road by charging security personnel and airport site employees fees. They said that the airport was not doing well this year because passengers were down and suggested we increase transportation fees over to Digby Island for people who are taking flights instead of charging companies that are working there increased fees,” explained councillor Joy Thorkelson, noting that the math showed a simple 50 cent increase per passenger would cover the subsidy for employee travel.

 “After hearing from the airport society I think we need to hold the line on that 15 per cent increase on freight vehicles and passenger vehicles because we need to be competitive with the airport in Terrace,” added councillor Gina Garon.

With concerns about stifling the development of the airport, as well as asking bus drivers to collect the fee for passengers not flying out but rather accompanying other passengers, council voted to remove the fees for airport site employees and “other passengers” and keep vehicle fares and monthly passes for freight vehicles at 2009 levels while raising the fee for aircraft passengers from its current $14 to $19 per person instead of the $18 originally proposed by the finance department.

Additional fees for the airport ferry likely to sink or swim 
By George T. Baker
Staff Writer 
The Daily News
Thursday, May 6, 2010 

City council have passed their Five Year Financial Plan.

After waiting a week to deal with some unanswered questions with regards to airport ferry fees, the HST and fees at the Civic Centre, Chief Financial Officer Dan Rodin presented his final FYFP to the public and council on Monday.

Much of Monday night was spent debating how best to fund the Digby Island ferry run. Originally, Rodin had presented a flat fee of $18 bus fare from the Highliner Hotel to the airport for both air passengers and employees. That wasn’t much to Joy Thorkelson’s liking.

The councillor wondered about the wisdom in charging employees $18 per day to get to work when the City could simply raise the fee to $19 for Air passengers, which would easily cover the employee costs.

She also had little time for those who blithely drove their cars over to the airport for the relatively cheap fare of $5. 

“I want a free bus ride for employees, but if someone is going to drive their car over because they did not want to take a bus, I have no problem with charging them $30,” said Thorkelsen.

So, now passenger vehicles traveling to Digby Island will pay $30 roundtrip to the airport, an increase of $25 or 500 per cent.

Mayor Jack Mussallem said that there had been a concern that too many people had been using their cars and forcing the ferry to make too many trips, and so a fee increase would discourage that.

Airport employees will also be exempt from a monthly passenger vehicle fee of $150.

However, city councillor Gina Garon, who said that a 15 per cent increase to passenger fees would have a negative impact on business opportunities at the Airport, opposed the fee increases.

 “We need to remain competitive [as a regional airport] with Terrace,” she said, adding that she would like staff to hold airport fees to last year’s costs.

Bus fees around town will also go up. Fare will go to $1.50 for an adult and increase to $1.75 in 2011. It was supposed to increase to $2 by 2012, but Thorkelson cautioned council to not accept that fare at this point.

 “We can always amend it to increase the fare, but it is always difficult to decrease the fare,” she said. “I am not prepared to support a 75 per cent increase in just two years.”

Councillor Kathy Bedard said her concern was that they recover the cost of the transit system.

 “A system that is probably envied around the province,” she claimed.

 Still, council voted to accept Thorkelson’s hold-the-line motion. Recreation fees went up seven per cent to reflect the HST, except for 14 and under where it is exempt.

Councillor Nelson Kinney and Garon opposed the increase to recreation, but it still passed three-to-two with Councillor Sheila Gordon-Payne absent from the meeting.

Airport fire truck sold to Alberta
By Monica Lamb-Yorski
Staff Writer 
The Daily News
Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Airport Manager Rick Reed is defending the recent sale of the Prince Rupert airport’s fire truck.

Two weeks ago the airport concluded eight weeks of negotiation to sell its Walters 5500 Firetruck, last refurbished in 1997, for $58,000 to a private airport in the oil sands in Northern Alberta.

“The truck is not certified and neither are our employees certified to be fire fighters,” Reed told the Daily News. “We do have an emergency response plan and we rely on City services and the municipal fire department to provide that service.”

One of the concerns is the fact the Prince Rupert Airport is on Digby Island accessible by an airport ferry. It would, on a good day, take 30 minutes for the local fire department to arrive there.

Fire Chief Dave McKenzie confirmed the fire department has responded to a few calls in the past when aircraft personnel have radioed ahead to alert they’ve smelled something in the cargo compartment.

 “We responded and dealt with those calls,” McKenzie said.

 “Ever since the City took over the airport, it has been under our care. It’s the same thing in Terrace and Smithers, their fire departments go to the airport. In our case we’d go on the ferry with one of our regular pumper trucks. The best case scenario would see us there in 25 to 30 minutes.”

In the next year Reed said that the airport plans to conduct tabletop exercises with the Fire Department to hone skills and determine shortfalls.

 “We are keeping a supply of dry chemicals as well as foam here for use by firefighters from the City if we ever have an event,” Reed said.

Reed believes that the likelihood is remote because the air carriers flying into the Prince Rupert being Dash 8s, a plane he describes as “reliable and hearty aircraft, particularly well-suited to our climate.”

In the late 1990s, Reed recalled, there was a major debate between airports across Canada and Transport Canada around Canadian Aviation Regulation (CAR) 308.

The essence of the argument then was that before the small airports were devolved to local municipalities, there were fire halls.

Prior to devolution, Transport Canada had several studies done that recommended the fire halls be closed because they weren’t necessary, and local response would be adequate.

 “When the airports were finally transferred, fire halls did not exist at all the small airports,” recalled Reed. “Following that transfer, Transport Canada came back saying small airports should have fire response and they introduced CAR308, which would require trained personnel and pieces of equipment that would be suitable for a local environment.”

Small airports fought the recommendation, claiming before Transport Canada transferred the airports they had said the fire halls weren’t required.

It was an expense small airports didn’t want to assume.

 “The long and the short of that battle was that CAR308 was withdrawn and CAR 323 was rewritten to set a certain threshold somewhere around 300,000 passengers per year. If you fit that bill, then you are required to have a trained fire response team as well as equipment to meet the size of aircraft that are using your airport.”

When Reed was at the airport in Abbotsford they had to provide Category 7 Response through a contract to a cost of about 1.8 million dollars. That was in addition to running a fire hall.

Presently, the only other communities in the province with fire halls are Victoria, Vancouver, and Prince George. 

Prince Rupert does not fall under the standard with an average of 60,000 passengers a year through the terminal. 

During the CAR308 debate, a study conducted by Sypher:Mueller on services of airports across North America concluded maybe once in 500 years a fire response team might save a life in an aircraft accident.

 “Transport Canada acknowledged that emergency response teams at airports are largely there to assist the airlines in responding to an accident. By spraying foam over the aircraft they douse the flames and allow the airline personnel to provide rescue services. The emergency response team did not intervene other than to douse the flames,” Reed commented.

The most recent accident in Canada that involved an aircraft in Canada was at Pearson Airport in Toronto with the Airbus 340.

“If you look at the footage, you’ll find when the aircraft ran off the end of the runway and caught on fire that the passengers and crew were evacuated in less than a minute and then the aircraft was consumed by fire.”

 By the time the fire response team was there it was too late, Reed added. “In most cases an aircraft will be consumed in less than minute. You have somewhere between 30 to 60 seconds to evacuate an aircraft.”

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