Passengers board Georgia Strait

Pay a little more, but getting to Victoria in 30 minutes

Pilot Travis Page flies from Victoria back to Pitt Meadows Airport Tuesday morning.

Pilot Travis Page flies from Victoria back to Pitt Meadows Airport Tuesday morning.

Mere minutes after taking off from its dock on the Fraser River in Pitt Meadows, the Georgia Strait Connector is over Surrey.

Travis Page and his three passengers have bypassed rush-hour traffic snarled below. Darris Lenobel-Quee takes out her camera to capture the view – a panorama of the snow-capped Coast Mountains, a coffee-coloured river reflecting the rising sun, the orange curves of the Port Mann Bridge and neat blocks of suburbia.

Soon, the Cessna Caravan is above the ocean, flying over a B.C. Ferry below that just left Tsawwassen to embark on an hour-and-half-long trip.

By the time the ship docks in Saanich, Lenobel-Quee, a student, and Karen DeLong will be chatting with B.C. Minister of Education at the legislature.

The plane trip was quicker and more convenient than a ferry, especially for DeLong, who lives five minutes away from Pitt Meadows airport.

“It is worth the little bit extra you pay for the convenience,” said DeLong, a director with the B.C. Association for Community Living.

The cost of a flight from Pitt Meadows to Victoria is $146 per person, plus HST. A one-way trip via ferry for one passenger and a car is $61.50, excluding the cost of gas for travelling from Pitt Meadows or surrounding suburbs to the ferry terminal in Delta.

Since it started a week ago, the Georgia Strait Connector, a division of Whistler Air, has flown an average of six passengers daily to the provincial capital and back.

The company is also making daily trips to downtown Vancouver, where passengers can connect to flights into Nanaimo, Comox, Sechelt, the Gulf Islands, Tofino and Whistler. The $24 flight into the heart of downtown takes 10 minutes, compared to an hour-long commute by car. A 28-day pass to take the West Coast Express train from Pitt Meadows to Waterfront costs $217.

“People are pretty amazed at how smooth it is here,” said airport manger Glenn Ralph.

“There is free parking and no check-in, you can show up 15 minutes before your flight and you are good to go.”

It’s the first scheduled service flying out of Pitt Meadows, a feat finally accomplished by the airport after years of promises.

Now that a scheduled service is in place, Ralph wants the airport to hold on to the business.

“The public needs to support it. If there isn’t the traffic, they’ll stop doing it and that would be a real loss for Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge,” he said.

“This is our moment and our opportunity to snag this service for the people in this community.”

With fuel costs of $300 per trip, Whistler Air isn’t breaking even at the moment. Quinn admits the services will need a lot more traffic before the company turns a profit.

“We hope it will develop over time,” he said. “But we will do whatever it takes to keep it around.”

Whistler Air would like to eventually offer at least three flights in the morning and three return flights in the afternoon and hopes to draw customers who used Harbour Air’s service to Victoria from Langley, which shut down last month.

“We are going to try to continue it one way or the other because we see there is a need,” said Whistler Air president Mike Quinn.

The service is currently attracting business travellers and government employees, folks who need to journey to the island and back without losing precious time by being stuck in traffic or on a ferry.

On Tuesday, Michael Perry with Northwest Tank Lines Inc. was travelling on the Georgia Straight Connector from his home in Victoria to Pitt Meadows for the second time.

“I love using this service because it saves me so much time compared to taking the ferry from Victoria,” said Perry, who was on his way to visit a client in Langley.

“It’s a fabulous service and I really hope it catches on because it’s a real time-saver and a beautiful flight.”