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Liftoff for Vanderhoof Airport Development Society

Vanderhoof Municipal Airport - Vanderhoof International Airshow Society, Facebook page
Vanderhoof Municipal Airport
— image credit: Vanderhoof International Airshow Society, Facebook page

You are probably only aware that when you're golfing planes seem to come and go, and every other year there is an airshow. That is, until you, a family member or friend has a real medical emergency. Then the Air Ambulance will swing into action, and whisk the patient away to some of the best treatment in the world. This is one of the most vital and common contact with our airport. Over the last three years there has been an average of one of these mercy flights per week.

In addition to the visible flying activity, there are also a lot of other things going on. Many businesses are dependent on the airport. There are three aircraft maintenance providers, two flying schools, and many hangar spaces that generate a lot of business and money for the area. These businesses relying on the airport employ many skilled workers. Aircraft from all over the region are starting to come here for service and repair. Besides the increased Vanderhoof air traffic, several planes have been counted coming in from Mackenzie, Ft. St. John, Smithers and Prince George.

The number of aircraft at the Vanderhoof airport has surged from three or four, to over 45 over the last 10 years. The reasons for this growth is due to many positive developments in the area, including the increased local availability of fuel, easier transactions with credit card access, the relatively lower costs for owners to base their aircraft here in Vanderhoof, and the excellent mechanical service pilots have access to.

There are also other non-aviation businesses based at the airport, like sand blasting and painting services, and of course, the annual farm crops that are grown on the surrounding land leased by the District of Vanderhoof.

Groups that make use of and depend on the airport include the Vanderhoof Flying Club, which in the past was credited for halting the threatened removal of the airport. The Air Cadets and CASARA (Civilian Air Search Rescue) also need airport access.

A little known fact is that it takes a lot of effort and combined resources to keep an airport operational, safe to use and accessible for all traffic. The District of Vanderhoof has been working to improve many of the supports required. There are now lights to enable use after dark. There is a system of lights to allow correct height when landing, an automatic weather broadcast is available 24/7. Also; a GPS approach is now in place to aid safe landing in poor conditions.

For a while now it's been recognized that the District of Vanderhoof has a lot on its plate. Our municipality is not only limited in its capacity to improve airport infrastructure, our town hall also lacks the specialised aviation knowledge needes to run and develop the airport to its optimum benefit to stakeholders, and the region as a whole. This is not a unique situation and thus many communities in B.C. have rallied to build better local airport management through a non-profit Society. Accordingly, a step in this direction was made with the formation of the Vanderhoof Airport Development Society (VADS).

This organization uses its aviation expertise to fulfil an advisory role for the District of Vanderhoof in an effort to help with management and advocate for optimisation of the airport. Progress so far has resulted in the adoption of an overall airport development plan which clearly outlines a way forward and identifies priorities for infrastructure and services.

The installation of weather cameras was found to be a priority next step for MEDEVAC flights, and council recently voted to install several of these and make the weather feed readily available online.

Plans are in place for building new structures related to aviation. A local developer has being trying to build a multi-aircraft hangar for several years. This requires application to the ALC (Agricultural Land Commission) for non-agricultural exemption. This process is now gaining traction. In addition there are two aviation businesses planning to build on lots they own. The matter of services (water and sewer) for these ventures is still under discussion, and hopefully will be resolved ahead of this construction season.

The matter of a proper Terminal building for Vanderhoof is becoming more pressing. The Flying Club, Air Cadets, CASARA, MEDEVAC, Flying Schools, and of course passengers and clients all need this common facility. The present structure that attempts to fulfill this role is in fact the old World War II radio shack. This building is way too small, badly situated, and of course in a constantly needing attention to try remedy its state of being disrepair. We can look to the recent initiative by Burns Lake, a community half the size of Vanderhoof, and the beautiful facility they have built there is an object lesson in how to do things.

The Vanderhoof Airport Development Society will be working with stakeholders and local government to access available grants in an effort to improve our airport. It is essential that improvements be made in order to make Medical Emergency flights more reliable, and develop our Vanderhoof Airport into the jewel that it can become from the diamond in the rough that is started from.

- from submission by Paul Collard, President, VADS

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