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Flying schools want compensation

Nov. 17, 2009, Vancouver – The association representing small B.C. airlines and flying schools wants Ottawa to compensate them for disruptions caused by air security restrictions during the 2010 Winter Olympics.


November 17, 2009
By Administrator

Nov. 17, 2009, Vancouver – The association representing small B.C. airlines and flying schools wants Ottawa to compensate them for disruptions caused by air security restrictions during the 2010 Winter Olympics.

While they don't deny the need to protect the Games from terrorist attack, small operators say the restrictions need not be in place for eight weeks and they're unduly harsh on flying schools.

After getting nowhere with various federal ministers, the Air Transport Association of Canada has written Prime Minister Stephen Harper asking for $3 million to $5 million to cover fixed costs
operators will be forced to absorb during the period covering the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

If that doesn't work, the association may go to court, said president John McKenna.

"We're not talking about covering for lost revenue potential; we're talking about covering fixed costs," McKenna said from the association's annual meeting in Quebec City.

"We're even considering court action."

Flying schools based at Boundary Bay airport south of Vancouver and Squamish, halfway between Vancouver and Whistler, expect to be especially hard hit.

They're within Olympic control zones that will bar them from doing much more than pre-approved point-to-point flights. Student solo flights, night-flying training and other key exercises are out.

"The businesses at Boundary Bay and Squamish estimate that'll impact 75 per cent of their business,'' said Pat Kennedy, president of the Pacific Flying Club, which operates a 27-plane training fleet out of Boundary Bay.

"It puts us out of business for eight weeks."

She said many operators will have to lay off staff or cut wages to minimize their losses.

Sightseeing plane and helicopter flights over Vancouver and Whistler, potentially lucrative with the influx of Olympic visitors, are also prohibited.

Air security restrictions are timed roughly to coincide with the opening and closing of the Olympic athletes' village in downtown Vancouver, Jan. 29, to March 24.

Two conjoined 'Olympic rings' will cover a 30-nautical-mile radius of airspace from Vancouver International Airport and the Whistler Athletes' village, extending west to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island and south into Washington state.

Within them are three control areas, including the Vancouver-Whistler air corridor, and inside those seven restricted zones above event venues that will be limited to emergency and security aircraft.

Planes straying into restricted areas will get a radioed warning or possibly a visit by Canadian or U.S. fighter jets.

Aircraft will be allowed inside the rings but passengers on those flights, including corporate aircraft, must go through security screening at a handful of designated "portals" outside the zones.

For small airlines flying into Vancouver from elsewhere in British Columbia, that means diverting to one of those portals.

"Some little puddle-jumps that take 45 minutes are now going to take an hour and a half because you've got to detour via somewhere else before you can access downtown Vancouver or the bay or the airport," said McKenna.

The period for extra screening has been cut to five weeks from eight, but small carriers say they'll still take an economic hit.

"There's a lot of operational cost in doing that," said Spencer Smith, vice-president of Vancouver-based Pacific Coastal Airlines. "It's not like pulling your car over on the side of the road.

"We're not looking for pity around the inconvenience. It's the direct cost for us to continue to do business during the Olympic period."

The added costs, coupled with an expected drop in regular traffic as travellers headed to Vancouver on business or for medical appointments postpone plans, could cut Pacific Coastal's business by 25 per cent, Smith estimated. It may park six of its 24 planes.

RCMP Cpl. Jen Allan, spokeswoman for the Olympic Integrated Security Unit, said the screening period was shortened after discussions with aviation stakeholders.

"The idea is always in all areas of our planning to try to mitigate the impact of security restrictions during the Olympic and Paralympic period," she said.

But McKenna said the three-year-old 2010 Aviation Committee, which includes security and aviation officials, was not consulted about the security plans.

He said the industry has lobbied in vain and has now made the last-ditch appeal to the prime minister.

McKenna said the requested compensation is small, given the Games $1-billion security budget. And it's not without precedent, he said, noting the industry was compensated for restrictions around the 2002 G8 leaders' summit in Kananaskis, Alta.

Harper was in India Monday and a spokeswoman at his office in Ottawa said officials had not seen the letter.

Despite frustrations, McKenna urged pilots not to test the restrictions.

"We've been very careful in telling our members, listen, this is serious stuff. We don't want to see anybody in our industry defying them."