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Airport might shoulder entire cost of runway project

Sep 22 2012

After failing to attract federal or provincial help in funding a $32-million runway expansion, the Victoria Airport Authority is considering taking it on itself.

The airport has been trying to partner with senior governments on the project for about four years, but hasn't had any luck, CEO and president Geoff Dickson said to Victoria councillors this week.

"I've had a good, hard look at if there is a less expensive way to do it and other alternatives ... and we're going to have a good, hard look at extending it to the west and financing it ourselves," Dickson said.

The expansion would involve extending the runway 244 metres to the east and 183 metres to the west.

Airport officials have said the runway expansion would allow for larger planes and direct flights to Europe, bringing 40,000 new international visitors to the region each year and generating up to $20 million in direct spending for the local economy.

The airport authority is looking at a number of options, including expanding the runway only to the west - a change that could shave $10 million off the price, Dickson said.

The shorter extension would still open the airport to some international longhaul markets, he said.

Dickson put a timeline of about five years on an extension of some kind.

"The big thing that's changed in the last two years is the European economy," Dickson told councillors. "It's going to be a while before the charter carriers which we would target are going to be launching new routes. It will come, but it's not today. It's probably three, four or five years from now where they'll be looking at taking on new equipment and starting new routes."

Victoria Coun. Ben Isitt said he was pleased an "honest assessment of demand" for the runway extension was being done.

"We've heard the major carriers don't believe there's any sustained market for international flights or overseas flights and we've heard that, currently, charter companies don't even view it as viable," he said. "So I personally favour a more wait-and-see approach."

Mayor Dean Fortin said runway expansion is necessary to get direct flights from Asia.

"You have to have the runway expanded and then you can attract that business. You cannot attract business and then try to expand the airport."

The Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce considers the runway expansion the region's most important project.

Over the past five years, the provincial government has contributed to a number of runway extensions, including $22 million in Prince George, $1.35 million in Kelowna and $6 million in Nanaimo, the B.C. Chamber says.

Premier Christy Clark last year said a stronger case had to be made for a runway expansion at the Victoria airport.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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