P.G.-Victoria link set for takeoff

A direct service between Prince George and Victoria will take flight in the new year, cutting a typical trip time by about an hour each way.

Starting Jan. 12, Pacific Coastal Airlines will provide the service six evenings a week, Sundays to Fridays, taking off from Victoria at 5 p.m. and landing in Prince George at 6:40 p.m. then returning to Victoria at 7:05 p.m. and arriving there at 8:45 p.m., an hour and 40 minutes each way.

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Competing airlines offer morning and evening flights, but with a stop in Vancouver those trips typically take two-and-a-half to three-and-a-half hours to complete, meaning Pacific Coastal flights are roughly one to two hours shorter.

Pacific Coastal will be flying a 30-seat Saab 340 A and flight prices will start at $150 one way, about the same price Air Canada and Westjet charge for early bookings.

Pacific Coastal's schedule may not please everyone, the airline's vice-president of commercial services, Spencer Smith conceded during a media event Tuesday at the Prince George Airport, but added it should cater well to businesspeople.

"When you're developing a schedule that only includes one flight a day, it's impossible to get the absolutely perfect schedule, so there's going to be lots of people who are going to say that's great and there are going to be lots of people who say that's not great," Smith said.

"But that is the time that we felt was the way we could best capture the market going both ways and allowing for the business traveler to make the most out of the day going either direction."

Smith said the service is a "great start" towards getting a foothold in northern B.C.

"Certainly, we are keenly interested in expanding opportunities out of Prince George," he said.

There's no doubt politicians and provincial government employees, as well as businesspeople, will use the service.

Prince George Construction Association president Rosalind Thorn said a number of workers commute from Vancouver Island homes to northern B.C. job sites, "so it will be a welcome for our industry."

Tourism Prince George chief executive officer Erica Hummel said the service will help her organization further draw visitors in this region. As scenic as Vancouver Island may be, Hummel said those who live in the Island may be interested in what this region has to offer particularly as a four-season sport-tourism destination.

"Maybe they want to explore some great powder and this will be a really way for them to access that in a day," she said.

Locally, the service is expected to directly generate three to four full time jobs, namely a marketing rep and employees working at the counter for Pacific Coastal, plus a further three part-time positions made up of ground crew.

Started nearly 40 years ago in Bella Coola by Smith's father, Daryl, a one-time truck logger, Pacific Coastal now flies to more than 65 destinations, and also supplies cargo services and charter services to fishing lodges and the resource sector.

At 220,000 outbound seats per year it is the sixth-largest airline operating at Vancouver International Airport and in terms of take-offs and landings it's the third largest.

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