Skydivers back at Pitt Meadows airport

Dispute over licence fee settled with smaller landing zone

Shane McKechnie helped kick off the skydiving season at the airport on the weekend.

Shane McKechnie helped kick off the skydiving season at the airport on the weekend.

A skydiving business in limbo since January over a lease dispute with Pitt Meadows Regional Airport has reached a settlement and is back in operation.

Pacific Skydivers Ltd. kicked off its season on the weekend with 15 tandem jumps.

“It’s great that we are open again,” said operations manager Shane McKechnie, who’ll be at the helm of the drop zone while owner Ian Flanagan takes a back seat.

“I’m hoping to give the place a new lease on life.”

Faced with a 2,500 per cent increase in its license fee, Pacific Skydivers was ready to pack up in January and leave the airport, where it has operated from for more than 25 years.

Flanagan had been fighting the increase in the fee, from $2,800 annually to more than $60,000, for the past year and was unable to reach an agreement with airport management.

The airport is operated by a private, non-profit society, the board for which is appointed by the municipalities of Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows.

The mayors sit on the board as non-voting directors, but rejected Pacific Skydivers requests to intervene in the dispute because they considered it a “tenant-landlord” issue.

McKechnie stepped in after the dispute came to a head in the new year and says he’s now negotiated a license fee for a smaller landing zone for skydivers.

The smaller strip means the drop zone will be offering rookies tandem jumps for now and only seasoned skydivers will allowed to be jump solo.

McKechnie is relieved to see Pacific Skydivers in operation again.

“The business was successful, but I want to pump it up even more,” he said.

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 did not reflect the true value of the land the skydiving business is leasing from the airport.

When airport manager Glenn Ralph took charge of operations a few years ago, he noticed the discrepancy in leasing rates and gave Pacific Skydivers two years to deal with the increase.

Ralph is also glad to see the skydivers back in operation.

“We weren’t trying to get rid of the skydivers,” said Ralph.

“I can’t have one business on the property that was using the land for nothing, while everyone else is paying. That wouldn’t work for any business.”