This Globe and Mail article is from last week - I only just found it this morning:
News from globeandmail.com
Monday, March 21, 2005
Proposal to service Whistler by air faces uphill challenges
B.C. tourism operators want to launch mid-size jet service into Pemberton facility
VANCOUVER -- With an eye to the 2010 Winter Olympics, tourism sector players in British Columbia are pushing a plan to launch commercial flights into Pemberton, a logging village on the doorstep of Intrawest Corp.'s Whistler ski operations.
Vancouver-based Intrawest said it has support from WestJet Airlines Ltd. and Alaska Air Group Inc. for a proposed expansion of the existing airport at Pemberton that would allow 737s and other mid-sized aircraft to land and take off there.
"If we are serious about growing tourism in this region over the long term, it will probably need to happen," said David Brownlie, chief operating officer at Intrawest's Whistler-Blackcomb division.
After receiving several proposals, including Intrawest's, the Village of Pemberton has hired a consultant to look at various scenarios, including a $12-million expansion of the Pemberton airport's 1,219-metre runway. Mel Feddersen, a senior director of operations with Vancouver Airport Services, is scheduled to deliver his recommendations to the municipality next week.
"This will give us some direction as to what we can do with the airport," said Pemberton Mayor Elinor Warner.
The idea of using Pemberton as a destination for commercial aircraft is not new. A decade ago, Prime Air Inc. built a terminal at the site in a bid to run a commercial service from Pemberton. The terminal sits empty today.
However, a number of factors have combined to bring the concept back onto the front burner, including Whistler's role as a joint host of the 2010 Winter Olympics and burgeoning tourism traffic to the region's ski resorts and golf courses.
These attractions draw about two million visitors annually to Whistler, which has no airport of its own. The closest major airport is in Vancouver, a two-hour drive on the sometimes hazardous Sea-to-Sky Highway, which yesterday was closed when a mudslide caused an early-morning bridge washout.
The airport idea is resurfacing as Pemberton evolves from a logging village into a bedroom community for workers from Whistler.
"If we could deliver air service of a reasonable size, the demand would absolutely be there," said Intrawest's Mr. Brownlie.
However, airline industry officials who are familiar with the situation say they are skeptical about whether such a plan would be viable or even technically possible.
"There are too many rocks in the air," said Nigel Protter, a Pemberton pilot who builds his own planes.
He was referring to the fact that the existing airport is in a narrow valley that is surrounded by mountains, the closest of which is 8,000-foot Mount Currie. Aircraft aiming to land would be challenged by the fog and low cloud that often hangs over the valley, he added.
Mike Quinn, operator of a Whistler float plane firm, said it would make good business sense to use 737-type aircraft to satisfy the medium-haul markets.
"The problem there is that these aircraft require stricter approach and departure procedures due to their size and speed," said Mr. Quinn, owner of Whistler Air. "I would like to be proven wrong, but I just can't see a 737 getting approval from Transport Canada to make the sharp 60-degree turn that would be required for landing at Pemberton."
Officials at both WestJet and Alaska Airlines said they are aware of the Pemberton airport proposal, but declined to comment.
Since the airport is owned by the Village, any plan to expand could not proceed without the support of the village's 2,000 residents. Ms. Warner was cautious about how the community will view expansion.
"There is no way that anything is going to fly over anybody's land without consultation, and that includes first nations," she said.
[Edited 2005-03-28 20:30:33]