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COVER STORY: Boundary Bay Airport flying high
Boundary Bay Airport manager Tim Bain smiles as he looks out his office window on the acres of empty space next to the airport's tarmac. Right now, the view isn't much to look at, just piles of dirt and sand.
But that is likely going to change, and soon.
"That's going to be hangars, all the way down," he says, pointing to the Heli-One maintenance facility more than half a kilometre away.
This month, Bain and Alpha Aviation, the company that operates the airport for the Corporation of Delta, welcomed a significant milestone in the airport's continued development with the arrival of regularly scheduled passenger flights.
Beginning March 31, Abbotsford-based Island Express Air will begin flights twice daily from CZBB to Victoria, with connecting flights to Nanaimo and Tofino.
The service is the first of its kind offered at the local airport and means Vancouver Island is going to get a whole lot closer for South Delta residents, as well as for many across the Lower Mainland.
Given that Boundary Bay Airport features a restaurant, pilot's lounge, and a customs office for incoming US and overseas flights, Bain believes travellers will make the switch.
"We are a full-service international airport," says Bain. "You can park for free and walk 40 feet to your flight. It's about as easy as flying gets."
Bain is hoping the recently announced passenger service raises the profile of the local airport as it looks to attract more aviation companies who want close access to the Metro Vancouver region, but don't want to pay the high fees charged by other larger airports.
"We're getting a lot of interest from some high profile aviation companies," he says. "They are very interested in what we have to offer here.
Island Air Express owner Gerry Visser (left) with pilot Adrian Bernstein arrive at Boundary Bay Airport on Wednesday, March 5. Adrian MacNair Photo.
Delta to Victoria in 12 minutes
Island Express Air owner Gerry Visser says the new passenger service his company is offering will save many Metro Vancouver travellers time and money.
"This is big news for anyone sick of sitting in that tunnel to get to YVR," he says. "You can save yourself an hour of driving in bumper-to-bumper traffic."
The 12-minute flight to Victoria International Airport will leave at 7:10 a.m. and 4:25 p.m. seven days a week, with return flights leaving 50 minutes later, respectively.
Island Express Air is the first multi-aircraft airline to offer regularly scheduled passenger service out of Boundary Bay Airport.
While Alpha Aviation has tried once before to bring in scheduled flights to the airport, Bain is confident the deal worked out with Island Express Air will not only be successful, but will open the door for other airlines.
"We think there's a good market for small commuter airlines here, and [Island Express] is the first of many, we hope," he says.
Tickets for the new Vancouver Island service will start from $115, including taxes and fees. Visser said the target demographic of the service will be government workers and business people, as well as the elderly who don't want the hassle of dealing with the ferries or travelling into Vancouver to fly to the Island.
"If your time is worth anything, it makes a lot of sense to fly," says Visser.
With Boundary Bay Airport's location on the doorstep of the Fraser Valley, Visser says he hopes to attract travellers from Surrey, White Rock, and Delta - many of whom would otherwise drive right by Boundary Bay Airport on their way to YVR.
Island Express Air will be operating a fleet of eight- and 10-passenger Piper Navajos on the route.
Island Express Air first officer Harpreet Gill is a recent hire with the company in their move to expand flights into Boundary Bay. Adrian MacNair Photo.
New heights for CZBB
The airport is currently home to more than 400 airplanes, the majority of which are owned by private pilots for weekend joyrides. The airport is also home to five flight training schools, making the airport the seventh busiest in all of Canada with close to 200,000 takeoffs and landings annually.
While the airport’s runways can handle aircraft as large as a Boeing 737, smaller commuter planes like the 78-passenger Bombardier Q400 would be better suited for the airport on a regular basis, Bain says.
"A 737 could land here… but if it was every day, it would really beat up the runway."
In addition to scheduled passenger service, Bain said the airport is focussed on attracting corporate jet business, as well as high profile aviation companies.
"We've had a lot of interest recently," Bain says. "We're not really hemmed in like other airports, so there's room to grow here."
Thanks to the new South Fraser Perimeter Road and the new 80th Street exit from Highway 99, Boundary Bay Airport is looking very attractive to companies that need to move goods around the region.
Heli-One was the first big commercial tenant to land at the airport, opening the world's largest helicopter engine repair facility in 2007. The state-of-the-art facility employs close to 350 people.
Dayhu's Boundary Bay Industrial Park - located on airport lands and scheduled to be completed this May - is expected to eventually pump in an additional $1 million in municipal taxes.
However, the airport's current good fortunes are in stark contrast to the situation a decade ago.
In 2002, the municipality had to take the airport’s previous operators to court after they fell behind $2.2 million in their taxes. Current airport operator Alpha Aviation has spent tens of millions to upgrade the facility, and currently contributes more than $500,000 annually in municipal taxes.
The Corporation of Delta is currently working on a revised master plan for the airport which will pave the way for the growth expected over the next decade.
"When we looked at the airport 10 years ago, there wasn't a lot of momentum," says George Harvie, chief administrative officer for the Corporation of Delta. "That's changed."
In the past five years, the airport has seen a new 15,000-square-foot terminal completed, as well as a new runway extension, new fuel farm, and new hangars built. Currently, the airport is installing precision approach lights to help aircraft land in poor conditions and will be repaving the apron in anticipation of the arrival of new commercial tenants.
"We've come a long way with our little airport," says Delta Mayor Lois Jackson. "I call it our little airport, but it's growing up. It's one of the best kept secrets in the Lower Mainland, but I don't think it will be a secret for much longer."
Harvie says the success of the airport benefits all Delta residents, thanks to the massive amount of tax dollars it pumps into the city's coffers. That's money that pays for things like recreation facilities, fire and police protection, and even garbage collection.
"This is going to create a lot of jobs, good paying jobs too."
And this all comes with very little downside, he adds.
To Harvie's knowledge, the municipality hasn't received a noise complaint about the airport in the past three years, and the free-to-attend Boundary Bay Air Show hosted by Alpha Aviation draws close to 10,000 spectators annually.
"We're going to make this airport safe, sustainable, and a benefit to this community," he says.
Airport Manager Tim Bain takes the controls at CZBB
Tim Bain is the new manager of Boundary Bay Airport, taking the controls two months ago, following the departure of previous manager Susan McLaren, who left the position to move to Calgary.
“She put together a great team here,” says Bain. “There’s a lot of great people here, and it really shows that they love coming to work everyday.”
Like so many in the aviation business, Bain says his love of flying started at a young age.
“I got into flying straight out of high school,” says the Burnaby Central Secondary grad.
Bain’s helicopter pilot career has taken him around the world. In the 1990s, he flew UN missions in Cambodia and he has seen much of Africa from the cockpit of his chopper. In 1998, he became the first pilot for the B.C. Air Ambulance Service, flying Sikorsky S-76s for operator Helijet.
Bain eventually settled down to work a desk job in the business sector to be closer to his family in the Lower Mainland.
When the opportunity came to take the controls at Boundary Bay Airport, Bain says he saw an opportunity to combine both his passions: Aviation and business.
“I really love this job,” he says. “I’m here late sometimes, not because I have to be, but because I want to be.”
For more information on flights from Boundary Bay Airport, visit www.islandexpressair.com.