A new strategic plan sees the Alberni Valley Regional Airport (AVRA) becoming a premier industrial airport on Vancouver Island.
Last year, the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District (ACRD) and AVRA Advisory Committee hired a pair of consultants to draft a vision and strategic plan for the airport that will guide future operations and development of the AVRA. Upgrades to the airport started in 2015, with the last components (lighting and GPS) to be finalized in 2021.
Over the past few months, consultants undertook a public survey, interviewed airport tenants, held virtual workshops and researched comparable airports to complete a vision for the airport.
Consultants Mark Duncan and Andrew Cuthbert attended an ACRD board meeting on Wednesday, April 14 to discuss the results of their report.
Their vision for the AVRA is: “Vancouver Island’s premier industrial airport, serving business, tourism and aviation needs.”
The strategic plan indentifies five strategic focuses:
1. The economy and COVID-19 recovery
2. Communications and engagement
3. Infrastructure management
4. Emergency management
Duncan explained that the airport already has a diverse market, with 15 tenants ranging from glider planes to Coulson Aviation’s home base.
However, there are opportunities to build on tourism while recognizing the airport’s industrial strengths.
“You have a very good industrial base with Coulson Air providing employment for 70 to 100 technical people at that airport, and that is a major contribution to the community,” said Duncan. “We feel that whole benefit should be celebrated.”
Cuthbert explained that the public survey was open from Dec. 8 to Jan. 22 and received a “really good response rate” with 251 people completing the entire survey. The majority of the respondents (87.5 percent) were from Port Alberni and the surrounding area.
“People generally indicated they were interested in the airport,” said Cuthbert, especially when it comes to economic development. But the public also expressed feeling a “disconnect” from the airport.
“They didn’t perceive the benefit of the airport related to their tax investment,” he said. “They didn’t really know what was happening there.”
Cuthbert noted that the cancellation of the Thunder in the Valley Drag Races at the regional airport was a “lost opportunity” for connection with the public.
Many people expressed a desire to see scheduled flights at the airport, but Duncan warned that the Alberni Valley has “lots of competition” as there are six other airports on Vancouver Island (outside of Greater Victoria) with scheduled traffic.
He suggested encouraging charter operations as a start.
“You’re already seeing a few private jets coming in to the airport to deliver people, on fishing charters for example,” said Duncan. “I think that needs to be promoted and understood.”
The consultants looked at several other comparable airports when putting together the AVRA’s vision. Some of these airports include Kelowna International (YLW) as a regional hub, Shuswap Regional (CZAM) as a general aviation airport and Renton Municipal (RNT) as an industrial working airport.
“You’re well-equipped to be a good industrial airport,” said Duncan.
AVRA is an ideal glider and training airport because of its “wide open airspace,” said Duncan, and the airport already has a major role as a firefighting and medevac location. He recommended working with the aviation community to encourage a flight training school and proposed forming partnerships with local First Nations, the tourism sector, the Port Alberni Port Authority, other airports and the province to come up with other opportunities.
“The investment you’ve made with the airport is already bearing fruit,” said Duncan. “I think as a district you should be very proud of that investment. With this strategic plan, you have a good way forward for that airport in the future.”
The ACRD board voted on Wednesday to approve the strategic plan and directed ACRD staff to work with the AVRA committee to develop implementation options.
“We want to show off our airport runway expansion,” said ACRD director Penny Cote. “I think later on this year, as things start opening up, it’s a great opportunity for us to do that and connect with the community.”
The full Visioning and Strategic Plan is available to view on the ACRD’s website.