For a long time, the Columbia Valley Airport (CVA) has been operated by Fairmont Hot Springs Resort (FHSR). In fall 2019, FHSR announced it would cease running the facility by the end of March. At this crucial moment, after the airport’s application, the Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) approved operational funding of $60,000 from the Columbia Valley Economic Services. That amount would be released only if the eight conditions were successively fulfilled by mid-August 2020.

The conditions included: that an annual general meeting be held with audited 2019 financials; election of a new board and officers that represent the Columbia Valley geographically; using a skills matrix to recruit qualified board members and ensure proper oversight of the society; that bylaws be updated to prevent any single business, corporation or not-for-profit organization from holding a majority of votes on the society board; that a fully-costed business plan be prepared; a professional assessment of assets completed; and an operations/procedures review and work plan be prepared.

Granite River Consulting was contracted to provide an assessment of the airport and help the volunteers fulfill the eight essential conditions to the funding agreement. A brainstorming session was held with 25 stakeholders to ensure the CVA transitioned to a stand-alone, non-profit organization that can sustainably continue its operations and maintain its activities.

With the help of Granite River Consulting, the CVA Society (CVAS) submitted a package to RDEK which showed all eight conditions had been satisfied. After a month of waiting, the airport society heard that the RDEK reviewed the documentation, confirmed its funding approval and released the money to the CVAS.

In the funding request to the RDEK, the CVA is described as “a key asset for the immediate service communities stretching from Canal Flats to Spillimacheen. It plays a critical role in providing public safety services of medical evacuation flights, military training in conjunction with being an important and vital base for forest fire services and search and rescue operations. Further, direct and indirect economic benefits for the Columbia Valley are achieved for tourism and industry.”

“Business levels fluctuate, it is very busy now due to fire fighting, but because the airport supports night landing, the volunteers can be called upon in the middle of the night for a medical evacuation. Fortunately, local pilots and neighbours come out to help when needed,” said Pascal van Dijk, the newly elected president of the CVAS. It is the only airport in the area that can operate at night. The light system at the airpot makes it possible to use it 24 hours a day, a key consideration if an emergency happens in the region.

“A good gliding friend of mine had a serious gliding accident near Mount Pinto. He was helicoptered to Invermere to be stabilized, ambulanced to Fairmont Hot Springs and flown out by Medevac plane to Calgary late that night. Once again, the CVA came to the rescue in providing the medevac plane, a landing and take-off platform during the night, which could not have happened in Invermere or Golden,” said Hans Baeggli. Van Dijk adds, “And it’s just one example out of the 24 medical evacuations that happened between January and August (2020).”

Society members were adamant that this success story would not have been possible without the precious support of volunteers and the community. “Two key volunteers, Shawn Jestley and Dave Wright, who operate the airport on a day-to-day basis, are at the airport all the time,” noted van Dijk. Jestley and Wright, after FHSR stopped funding the airport, lost their jobs. Since then, they help to keep operations running smoothly as volunteers, along with many others.

Last week, nine out of the eleven Director positions were filled: Pascal van Dijk (president), Hans Baeggli (vice president), Andrea Tubbs (secretary), and Max Fanderl, Jim Miller, Brian Rhodes, Vivek Sharma and Bill Woods (directors at large). The CVAS is still looking to fill the treasurer position and one director at large position on its board.