Manager Guy Miller with Pitt Meadows airport projects announced in October. (THE NEWS/files)

Public needs more say in airport projects – council

Pitt Meadows Airport has three major building developments

The public needs more say in what development happens at Pitt Meadows Regional Airport, councillors said on Tuesday.

YPK is going to continue expansion, but air traffic will not grow in proportion to the square footage of a new building, manager Guy Miller told council. He outlined three major projects coming to the airport that will result in a combined $60 million in investment.

Those who live near the facility were not happy to learn about the expansion plans. In particular, neighbour Ron Bennewith said the new helicopter park will be disruptive.

“I have deep concerns about this whole presentation tonight,” said Bennewith. “I feel that the public, so far, has been left out of it.

“We have been blitzed by helicopters. They’ve buzzed our house at night flying low, and there’s got to be a different route for helicopters to come in.”

Bennewith said he would leave town if more air traffic is coming.

“There’s got to be some serious, serious consideration for the people who live in Pitt Meadows.”

Johanne Rensmaag was also critical of the lack of public input.

“Without an updated Airport Master Plan, and without this new plan being included in the upcoming OCP review for the City of Pitt Meadows, the airport is being treated like it is an island unto itself. It isn’t,” she said in an online post.

“Everything that will happen there will have an impact on the people who live here. How is it that a $60-million project can be unveiled and apparently approved without any public consultation or input,” asked Rensmaag. “Even Transport Canada recommends public consultation before a project proceeds, not after.”

Mayor Bill Dingwall said now may be a good time to consider helicopter flight paths over the city – a measure Miller said could better contain the amount of noise neighbours have to put up with.

The mayor also agreed with Bennewith – that the public has not had a say in the development in the past.

“What happened in the past is likely not going to be the way of the future,” said Dingwall.

He agreed there was no public consultation for three major projects, which have been approved.

A helicopter park is slated to be constructed in the northwest corner of the property, for maintenance and repair. It will consist of five buildings, each 55,000 square feet in size, and will be occupied as early as 2019. It will be built in phases.

Sky Helicopters is expanding, with a new facility of approximately 20,000 square feet for helicopter and business jet storage, studio rental and office space.

It will also serve as the headquarters for the new Coastal Drones subsidiary business of Sky Helicopters, which is taking advantage of opportunities in filming and other areas. It is slated for occupancy in late 2019 or early 2020, and will be located adjacent to the existing Sky Helicopters building in the southeast corner of the property.

A third new building will be built by Fly Guy Aviation, with 20,000 square feet for aircraft storage and another 12,000 square feet for office space and aviation-related commercial businesses. It will be ready for occupancy in late 2019 or early 2020.

And the airport is going to do an apron rehabilitation, at a cost of $1.1 million, which will fix cracks, provide more space for parking aircraft, add more than 20,000 square feet of new paving, and provide night lighting.

It should be completed by late summer 2019.

Miller said the airport society has applied for a grant from the province that would cover 50 per cent of the cost.

Although the public has not been involved, Dingwall said the projects will “modernize and professionalize” YPK.

“It starts to instill a lot of confidence in the airport, and also a lot of user pride in the airport,” said Dingwall.

He added that expanding the airport is not being done with a goal to bring in large passenger jets, and that was Miller’s message to council.

“This airport is not about 737s and dash eights and commercial carriers of that size,” Miller said.

He said the runway size makes YPK capable of bringing in smaller business jets only, and there are only about three per week.

However, maintenance, repair and overhaul is a big part of the aviation market for the airport. These businesses will bring in a lot of high tech and highly paid jobs, with not a lot of flying. Miller said YPK could excel at offering these services, and is “going after” these maintenance, repair and overhaul businesses.

“We’re going after what we do now, but just do it better,” said Miller, adding that YPK has land, space and runways for these maintenance organizations.

Coun. Mike Hayes whether will there be excessive noise from helicopters, and Miller answered that most of them are used for firefighting in the Interior during the summer months, then return for maintenance that can take months.

“Right now, the volume of helicopter traffic is fairly minimal,” said Miller.

He told the council the airport is part of some of the busiest airspace in Canada, if not the continent, with several airports in the Lower Mainland – including Abbotsford, Boundary Bay and Vancouver International – being “squeezed in” by mountains.

YPK had 110,000 movements – takeoffs or landings – in 2017. He estimated there will be 118, 000 to 120,000 this year. It is the 17th busiest in the country, ahead of Winnipeg (104,000), Waterloo (102,000), and Saskatoon (97,000)

“We’re busier than a lot of international airports,” said Miller, adding it operates from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Coun. Tracy Miyashita also called for more stakeholder and citizen engagement.

“We’ve certainly learned that along the way with different developments that we’ve put forward at council that citizen engagement is really key for support, or seeing things a different way,” she said.

Miller agreed there has been a lot of misinformation about what businesses are coming, and the noise they will bring.

“People will be very proud of this airport,” he said. “It is a fantastic airport, and it has so much potential, and a lot of it frankly is untapped.”

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