Debate soars over Vernon airport extension possibly being scrapped

City staff staff has recommended not to extend the airport runway from 3,500 to 4,000 feet.

There’s some high-flying debate over the future of Vernon Regional Airport.

Some city council members expressed concern Monday with a staff recommendation not to extend the airport runway from 3,500 to 4,000 feet.

“It would be one way to attract corporate offices to Vernon,” said Coun. Scott Anderson on some company’s being reliant on aircraft.

“We have one now, Kal Tire, and even if we had three, it would make a substantial difference.”

Mayor Akbal Mund also questions if maintaining a shorter runway will hamper the community’s economic development opportunities.

“How will that affect the corporate sector? Does the additional 500 feet bring corporate jets to safety standards.”

The extension would cost about $5.2 million.

“Based on the economic impact analysis for various development scenarios, the runway extension offers only a marginal increase in economic activity and would have a detrimental impact on surrounding neighbourhoods, particularly with regard to noise and development potential,” said Roy Nuriel, long ranger planner, in a report.

“The current runway length also meets the needs of about 97 per cent of aircraft movements at the airport.”

Transport Canada has dictated that any runway extension must occur by September 2017.

“If we don’t extend the runway now, that’s it forever. But the benefit doesn’t rationalize the cost,” said Coun. Catherine Lord.

However, Mund also points to the growing number of planes of all sizes using the airport.

“The extension could be important,” he said.

In 2014, there were about 15,485 takeoffs and landings.

On Monday, Nuriel presented a draft of the airport master plan.

It proposes upgrades to the airport and development of land to the north for industrial uses. Through city and private dollars, the price tag could be $5.8 million.

Presently, 97 people work at businesses at the airport, generating $6.5 million in wages and benefits and an economic impact of $11.1 million.

Nuriel is calling on the city to abandon a previous strategy for housing units inside hangars.

“Many of the stakeholders say they’d rather live somewhere nicer than the airport,” he said.

The city is consulting with the Okanagan Indian Band about the master airport plan and the document will be before council Jan. 25 for discussion.