‘Free ride over for skydivers’

A skydiving business won’t be able to operate out of Pitt Meadows airport next month if the licensing fee it owes is not paid.

Airport general manager Glenn Ralph won’t be giving Pacific Skydivers Ltd. another reprieve.

“What are they fed up with?” he asked.

“They’re fed up with the fact that their free ride is over, that now they have to pay what everyone else is paying.”

Pacific Skydivers Ltd. has operated out of the Pitt Meadows Regional Airport since 1986, and has been fighting what amounts to a 2,000 per cent increase to its license fee for the past year.

Since he has been unable to reach an agreement with the airport, owner Ian Flanagan says he will be moving to Alberta because fees the airport charges him to let his skydivers land on a swampy piece of land next to one of the runways have increased from $2,800 annually to more than $60,000.

The airport notes the rate Flanagan was previously charged was a throwback to previous deals struck with Transport Canada, when it ran the airport.

However, those fees don’t reflect the true value of the land Flanagan is leasing from the airport.

Ralph said when he took over airport operations a few years ago, he noticed the discrepancy in leasing rates and gave Pacific Skydivers two years to deal with the increase.

“Why should one entity on the property continue to pay only four-and-a-half per cent of what everybody else on the property is paying to use a similar amount of land?”

Ralph added that Flanagan’s characterization that land is “swampy” and unusable is false.

“We have land that is similarly close to the runway on the other side that we make twice as much off of,” said Ralph.

“We can turn this area into parking, into hangar storage.”

Flanagan stresses he can’t pay $65,000 a year for a landing area for skydivers.

“If they don’t change it, Alberta here I come,” he said.

Flanagan, though, does not want to leave Pitt Meadows. He owns a house in the city and even relocated his father-in-law to the area.

He would like the mayors of Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge, who are directors on the airport board, to intervene.

The airport is operated by a private, non-profit society, but Flanagan said his attempts to appeal to the airport society’s board have fallen on deaf ears.

The city appointed the airport board, Flanagan noted, so it should have some influence.

“The airport is an asset to the community and the mayors don’t seem to pay any attention to what’s going on there.”

Pitt Meadows Mayor Deb Walters has responded to Flanagan’s emails and has been inundated with more and letters from Pacific Skydivers’ supporters.

Walters, however, won’t intervene because the disagreement over leasing fees is a tenant-landlord issue.

“We don’t want to lose businesses,” she said. “We’ve asked the economic development corporation to work and provide comment to both parties. For us to get involved as a city, it’s like IGA asking us to make a deal with its landlord.”

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