Airport concerns take flight

Okanagan Skydive attracts visitors from across B.C. and Canada. It is currently seeking a long-term lease with the City of Vernon. - photo submitted
Okanagan Skydive attracts visitors from across B.C. and Canada. It is currently seeking a long-term lease with the City of Vernon.
— image credit: photo submitted

A businessman fears he could be grounded by changes at the Vernon Airport.

Bret Chalmers, with Okanagan Skydive, says the city’s plans to develop housing and hangars could force him to lose his space at the facility.

“Allow us the opportunity to grow our business in our current area,” he said.

While the city has proposed moving him to the other side of Tronson Road, Chalmers insists that area is not ideal because its shape could lead to new skydivers overshooting their target.

A total of 3,828 skydives took place at the airport in 2010, with just 10.9 per cent of the participants coming from Vernon.

About 33.4 per cent of the skydivers are from Kelowna, with 20.3 per cent from elsewhere in B.C., 22.6 per cent from Alberta and the remainder from other destinations.

Chalmers believes his business directly benefits the tourism sector.

“A lot of people are building their summer holidays around skydives and they enjoy what Vernon has to offer,” he said. “No one in Vernon can offer such an extraordinary experience.”

The company has six full-time employees and four part-time staff, and besides rent to use the airport, Chalmers says other money is pumped into city coffers.

“We are by far the biggest buyer of aviation fuel,” he said of the $40,000 annual expenditure.

Chalmers estimates that his company has a direct impact of $300,000 a year on the local  economy.

To continue to operate, Chalmers says he requires a firm lease for a landing area, a classroom location, services, easy access to the airport and taxiways, parking for two Cessna 182 planes and customer parking.

Chalmers’ concerns are being reviewed by city staff.

“We don’t want to lose Okanagan Skydive. We want to work with them,” said Mayor Wayne Lippert.

A city-owned corporation has proposed developing nine hangars with a residential component geared towards the hangars’ owners.

But Coun. Bob Spiers says those development plans appear to be stalled and Okanagan Skydive’s needs must be considered.

“Hopefully something can be worked out that will accommodate his business continuing at the airport,” he said.



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