No matter who runs Pitt Meadows airport, there are disgruntled business owners and tenants to satisfy.
Dysfunction in leadership is depriving the communities of the full potential of what could be an economic driver, says Ron Blakely, who has had a long relationship with the airport.
He has flown a plane out of YPK since 1980, had an aircraft repair shop there in the 1990s, and continues to own a hangar there. He has also lived across Ford Road from the airport since 1991.
“I have observed with interest the performance, since about 1997, of three successive regimes of airport administration. It has not been a story of success,” he said.
In 1986, Transport Canada transferred control of YPK to Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows.
The two cities are members of the Pitt Meadows Airport Society, a non-profit volunteer organization that operates the airport. It was supposed to be a recipe for success.
“Because the airport is publicly owned by the municipalities, the public has a high expectation for efficiency and financial performance and especially for transparency and accountability. Performance has been far below the public expectation,” Blakely adds.
He criticizes the group’s long-range planning, lack of transparency, spot zoning, lack of written operating and policy manuals, and “appalling relations” with tenants and neighbours.
“Lease holders are the sole source of income for the airport, and it makes sense to treat them with respect, and not give them an unnecessary hard time,” he said.
Although Blakely speaks only for himself, his comments were echoed by airport business owners who wished to remain anonymous, because they are tenants at YPK, and fear repercussions.
“There’s a high level of animosity around the airport,” Blakely said.
There is a movement to begin an airport business owners association, so tenants have a unified voice. YPK business owners have been requesting meetings with Pitt Meadows Mayor John Becker.
Blakely would also like to see the City of Pitt Meadows in sole control of the airport.
“It would be a lot simpler. The duties of that group would be obvious, and the responsibilities, as well.”
Pitt Meadows residents should decide the future of the airport, since it is entirely within their city, he asserts.
He has flown across the country and back five times in his 1947 Luscombe, and makes a point of stopping at small airports like Pitt Meadows – they’re often close to town, and have a flying club that welcomes visitors.
“In talking to the people, the common factor in successful airports is that they’re really tied into the community,” he said.
“It should be what the community wants. The biggest deficiency has been the failure to evolve a vision for the future of the airport.”
That’s the opinion of Becker.
He has not given up on the idea of Pitt Meadows being the sole member of the airport society, even though Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read said it’s not going to happen. On July 29, the day before the airport society’s AGM, Pitt Meadows council shocked Read and her council with a request that Maple Ridge leave the society.
“… We have no intention of divesting ourselves in our interest in our joint asset,” Read responded in a letter.
That’s not the end of the conversation.
The issue caused the airport society’s AGM to be recessed until Oct. 29. City staff have been on holidays and both councils on hiatus, but Becker will soon seek a conversation about control of the airport. It may be him and Read and respective city administrators, or sub committees of councils.
“We cannot let this sit in the middle of the road,” said Becker.
He wasn’t surprised by Maple Ridge’s reaction. But he points out Pitt Meadows gets all of the tax revenue from the airport businesses, and Pitt council deals with issues arising from “the interface with the community and the airport,” such as resident worries about increased air traffic, noise and safety.
He asks what value Maple Ridge’s involvement adds to the society.
Becker also believes that a future vision of the airport is critical to “take it to a new level.”
Vancouver International Airport is pushing out many of its smaller tenants, and that is creating an economic opportunity for other airports.
“They are exactly the kinds of businesses we would welcome in Pitt Meadows,” he said.
Becker also said he knew of problems at the airport in his capacity as a local lawyer, and they were coming before council in 2002, when he was first elected.
“I’m acutely aware of the issues at the airport,” he said.
Those issues have changed over time, from financial shortfalls to runway expansion, but there are always challenges.
There are business owners who are happy.
Dale Floyd at Coast Dog Aviation is an entrepreneur whose business has flourished in the environment of the Pitt Meadows airport, and from his perspective the facility is well run.
“I’m very happy with it, everything is going good,” he said. “We’re trying hard to make it a professional airport.”
His aircraft maintenance service supports six full-time and four part-time employees. He said they are family-supporting jobs, and businesses like his at the airport provide economic spin-offs for the city, as more workers move to the area. It’s a busy shop, and the customer base continues to grow.
But Floyd said some airport users resist changes, and there has been controversy.
“The airport manager is trying to take it in the right direction. He’s been one year on the job,” said Floyd. “I wish everyone would settle down, and let Elvio [Pecchia] do his job.”