By Kate Irwin
Fairmont Hot Springs Airport is competing to be put on the aviation map, with a bid to become one of WestJet’s new destinations for their upcoming regional airline. Should the attempt be successful, the valley could find itself with an aerial link to larger Canadian communities, providing easy access for out-of-town visitors.
With more than 30 communities across the country lobbying for services, the new short-haul flights have caught the attention of many rural areas, said Robert Palmer, manager of public relations for WestJet Airlines Ltd.
“Over 30 communities across all of Canada have expressed an interest in receiving services,” he said. “It’s not a whole lot different in terms of what we look for than what we look at for servicing a community with 737s.”
WestJet announced this week their plan to purchase up to 45 planes for the new regional service, details of which were first unveiled to the public at the start of this year.
In January, the airline put out a request for proposals from interested airports. Within a week, Shawn Jestley, Fairmont Airport’s manager, had applied.
While Mr. Jestley thinks Fairmont’s chances are “as good as anyone else’s”, he is confident that the facilities at the airport meet the quality standards required for a scheduled regional service.
“Pilots call this the ‘hidden gem of the Columbia Valley,’” Mr. Jestley said. “We maintain everything to the certified standard … This airport is capable of handling a 737 or a C-130 Hercules, in fact, when it opened in 1986, a group flew in on a 737.”
The Fairmont Hot Springs Airport is a 24-hour facility, owned and operated by the Columbia Valley Airport Society.
While the airport is currently used by mostly corporate and charter planes, it more than has the capacity to handle a scheduled service such as the one proposed by WestJet, Mr. Jestley said.
Along with recreational and corporate planes, the airport is used as a training facility for the military, a medevac centre, and a firefighting base during forest fire season.
“Lloyd Wilder had the vision to build the airport to try and increase tourism,” Mr. Jestley said. “We already have the facilities here, we might as well use them … It’s a good airport … to build it today might cost $20-40 million.”
After signaling interest to WestJet, Mr. Jestley began drumming up community support, contacting municipalities, chambers of commerce, and the Regional District of East Kootenay for letters to back his bid.
Those, along with signatures raised from an online petition, will be included in the portfolio Mr. Jestley is preparing to send to WestJet.
The airline plans to announce the successful communities by the end of this year or the start of 2013.
There is no indication from WestJet on possible destinations for the rural flights, but their spokesman, Mr. Palmer explained that communities will be selected based on the current airline services available, demand for flights, the size of the area to be served and the state and structure of the local economy and industry.
To sign the petition to bring WestJet services to the valley, visit http://www.petitiononlinecanada.com/petition/bring-westjet-regional-air-service-to-fairmont-hot-springs/921.