Nick Christiansen, manager of the South Cariboo Regional Airport, shows off the runway, which is in need of resurfacing. (Kelly Sinoski photo, 100 Mile Free Press)

Commission considers next steps for 108 airport

The South Cariboo Regional Airport Commission met Wednesday.

The South Cariboo Regional Airport Commission met Wednesday to discuss a business plan for the 108 regional airstrip, including a desperate need to resurface the runway.

The Cariboo Regional District estimates it will cost about $6.3 million to do the work, which would include taxiway/apron overlay as well as electrical works. The runway was last resurfaced 27 years ago but with a lower grade of asphalt, due to funding constraints, said Al Richmond, CRD director for Lac La Hache-108 Mile.

“We’re going to have to do something with it,” Richmond said. “We’ve applied for grants and haven’t been successful yet. We’ll have to look at the options.”

Opened in 1969, the South Cariboo Regional Airport is a central hub for the region, used for hosting international students pilots, refuelling American planes on their way to Alaska – $1.4 million in fuel has been sold since 2015 – and as a landing and launching pad for emergency responders during crises such as the 2017 wildfires or for doing surveillance. In 2019, some 4,944 planes arrived and departed from the airport; of those, 73 were Medevacs.

“It’s an important strip, there’s no doubt about it. When a disaster hits, all emergency services hit airports and fire halls,” said Nick Christianson, manager of the regional airport. “In 2017, I had 25 helicopters coming in and right in the middle of that smoke came a Medevac. It was like Vietnam.”

Richmond said although the airport typically handles smaller aircraft and corporate jets, “Medevacs is what we’re most concerned about.”

READ MORE: Hercules aircraft lands at 108 Mile

Christianson said in the past 12 years since he’s managed the airport, he’s had to work every Christmas and New Year’s Eve because “somebody has a heart attack eating too much turkey and somebody breaks a hip on New Year’s. That’s a standard joke we have.”

As part of the 2020 business goals, the commission was expected to consider modifying its recently denied runway grant application to the Investing in Canada Infrastructure grant program with a view to bringing it forward for the October intake. Also up for discussion Wednesday was plans to replace the airside electrical system, including all runway and navigational lighting, develop a new aircraft loading and holding area and renovating the airport office, reception area and upstairs space.

Christianson is confident the work will get done eventually, noting the South Cariboo Regional Airport is one of the few smaller ones left and only one of two equipped with GPS in the region. The CRD is also proactive in ensuring it maintains the strip, which acts as the alternate airport for Williams Lake when planes can’t land in that city.

The airport’s 75-foot strip also makes it ideal as a testing ground: just the other day, a request came in from Bombardier to use the strip to test its $72.8-million Global 7500 business jet.

Christianson maintains part of the problem is the 108 airport is a registered entity, not a certified one, such as the one in Williams Lake, meaning it is not eligible for a grant through the Airports Capital Assistance Program with Transport Canada.

“We thought we were top of the pile because of ‘17 one of the problems here. It will get done by planning or by disaster,” he said noting the CRD has been proactive in ensuring the airport is maintained. “It’s near the end of its service life we know that.”

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