Airport improvement fee an 'embarrassment,' Gibson says

The $25 fee passengers must pay every time they have to fly out of the Prince George is an "embarrassment" but one everyone will have to live with for some time yet, Prince George Airport Authority CEO John Gibson told city council on Monday night.

He said the money raised by the airport improvement fee goes only to rehabilitation work rather than improving or expanding the airport and pointed his finger at the federal government for the trouble, repeating a refrain he has raised often.

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The federal government reaps $300 million a year in revenue out of Canada's airports and returns just $38 million in the form of capital improvements, Gibson said. To make matters worse, he said Prince George Airport does not qualify for that funding because it sits on federally-owned land.

There is some hope in the form of a recommendation out of a review of the Canadian Transportation Act this year that would take Prince George Airport out of the national airport system.

If that came about, "we'd then take over ownership of our land and we would be in a position where we could access funding," Gibson said. "But we think that's a long-term solution, not a short-term solution."

As it stands, Gibson called the situation "tremendously frustrating."

The fee was increased by $5 at the start of the year.

On another front, he said the airport is encouraging Westjet to restore direct service to Calgary and to bring its daily flights to Vancouver back up to five. Those services were cut and reduced in March but Gibson said Westjet is taking a second look.

"For some reason, Air Canada says they're at the right level for flights," Gibson said. "Westjet agrees they're one flight below where they want to be for Vancouver and they haven't scrapped the idea of going back to Calgary, which is intriguing," Gibson said.

But he said Westjet is waiting for the arrival of some new Q400 aircraft before making a decision. Optimistically, that could occur as soon as the end of this month but likely not until November, Gibson said.

As for a direct flight from Europe, Gibson said the one company the airport has been working with has "expanded as much as it's going to expand to as many places, so we're going to take a look at another couple of chartered carriers out of Europe."

Asked why authorities require passengers coming back into Canada on international flights to check their bags at Vancouver International Airport rather than letting them through to Prince George, Gibson said it's because they must be rescanned by a Canadian screening device.

Gibson said the Canadian Airports Council, which he chairs, is working to get that hurdle eliminated. "There are some tests going on in Vancouver right now to try and sort the bags through," Gibson said.

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