The West Coast’s Long Beach Airport is turning 75 years old this year and woke up Thursday morning to a $5.4 million birthday present from the federal government.
The money is coming from Transport Canada’s Airports Capital Assistance Program and will be used to complete a much-needed apron and taxiway rehabilitation project.
Airport Superintendent Mark Fortune said Long Beach’s primary runway received a $4 million upgrade in 2012, but much of the taxiways and aprons that support that runway were laid in 1943.
“The lifespan of a concrete surface is about 30 years. Our current concrete surface is 75 years old,” he said. “The reason we’re upgrading those surfaces is because they are falling apart, basically. They’re crumbling.”
He added the airport has seen a significant increase in traffic over the past year thanks to Pacific Coastal and Integra Air.
“They’re both operating larger aircraft than we have had in our scheduled traffic in the past and they’re coming in on a daily basis,” he said adding the new rehabilitation project will support those airlines as well as entice new ones.
“It’s one of those build-it-they-shall-come scenarios. We’ve put the infrastructure in that has been able to entice these higher level of operators to come into our site…We are certified for 737 traffic right now, but some of our aprons are old and cracked and aren’t really quite up to snuff to support that larger, heavier, aircraft.”
He said work on the project will get underway this year and likely wrap up by September 2019 and added air traffic should be able to continue largely uninterrupted.
“We are blessed in the fact that we have a fully operational three-runway network airport. We can shut down a large apron or taxiway and still access the terminal from a couple different locations,” he said.
The federal funding is expected to cover the total cost of the rehabilitation project with no local tax dollars being needed, according to Fortune who noted the tax base that supports the airport is entirely contained on the West Coast and does not include Port Alberni.
“The funding component for this is 100 per cent support from the federal government,” he said. “Our tax base is tiny. There’s no way I can go to the electorate and ask for a $5.4 million project so the [Airports Capital Assistance Program] funding is critical…We have a very small tax base to draw from and to do these works up to an internationally recognized standard is costly.”
Ucluelet Mayor Dianne St. Jacques was thrilled by Thursday morning’s announcement.
“It’s very exciting, unbelievably, good news,” she said. “It’s great news for our economy, for our region and for the safety of our folks.”
Long Beach was one of 11 airports to receive funding from Transport Canada’s Airports Capital Assistance Program.
“The Tofino-Long Beach Airport is an important hub for residents and businesses in the region,” a Transport Canada spokesperson told the Westerly News. “This rehabilitation project will help the airport ensure continued safe operation for passengers, flight crews, and employees, who rely on the airport as it supports the regional economy and its social development.”
The program dished out roughly $33 million across the country.
“Our government recognizes the important role played by Canada’s local airports in supporting jobs and tourism, enabling investment and facilitating trade,” said Minister of Transport Marc Garneau, through the announcement. “Our investments are helping airports increase safety and accessibility for residents and travellers, while supporting the continued growth of local and regional economies.”
Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns told the Westerly he was happy to see Ottawa recognize the value of investing in the West Coast’s airport.
“Clearly, we need an airport that is safe and is a facility that can host larger aircrafts so we can accommodate the amount of visitors that are coming to the region,” he said. “It’s good that Ottawa is recognizing the significance of our region…There’s a benefit to not just the local communities, but it benefits Ottawa when we have economic activity that brings tax dollars to our region; a lot of that money flows back to Ottawa.”
He added a strong airport facility goes hand-in-hand with a strong tourism economy.
“We’ve seen that in Tofino as we see more and more aircraft coming and the whole region is benefitting,” he said. “We’ll continue to support the growth of the airport and our region for years to come and see the success of our region continue to grow. It benefits everybody in all of our communities.”