By Mariah McCooey-A dispute between Transport Canada and the Masset airport authority over the height of trees surrounding the runway has come to a head, resulting in the pullout of Masset’s latest daily service to Vancouver.
The airport was given 30 days notice, according to Transport Canada spokesperson Ruth Casey, starting on June 1. Because the airport did not deal with an issue of “obstacles” under rule TP 3-12, it will be officially decertified on June 30, she said.
The issue at stake is the trees – the height of them – that surround Masset’s runway. According to Transport Canada, they are too tall, and could be a potential safety hazard.
Masset airport manager Trevor Jarvis said that they have been reluctant to cut the trees because they border on private property, although some have already been cut.
But as far as he’s concerned, the change is not a downgrade.
“It doesn’t make a difference,” he said, “nothing has changed on the ground.”
What has changed though, is the process that carriers must go through to get permission to fly to Masset. Hawkair, which just started flying to Masset last month, was handed a ‘cease and desist’ notice from Transport Canada, pending special approval to fly into the now-decertified airport.
As of Monday, Hawkair has cancelled its regular service, although there will be four more trips (July 1, 4, 8, and 12). Anyone who has already purchased tickets for future Hawkair flights between Masset and Vancouver will be refunded, according to the Hawkair ticket office in Prince Rupert.
“It’s crazy. Ultimately it seems to be a disagreement between Transport Canada and the Masset airport,” explained Hawkair chief executive Rod Hayward. “A bunch of regulatory minutiae.”
Mr. Hayward said the company hired someone to analyze the survey data, to get a second opinion on whether it’s safe to fly a Dash-8 into the Masset airport, and it was fine. As far as he’s concerned, the Masset airport authority is to blame.
“The trees are one issue,” he said, “but in all reality (the decertification is) about more than just trees.” The Masset airport authority didn’t deal with this problem soon enough, said Mr. Hayward, “they just let it slide too long.”
Mr. Hayward said he e-mailed Masset airport to let them know that he’s “a little bit cheesed,” about the whole situation.
“Transport Canada is pretty patient, but eventually they have to put their foot down,” he said. And indeed, they have. Mr. Hayward said that the letter he received from Transport Canada indicates that they could be penalized up to $10,000 just for flying into Masset.
Ironically, however, charter planes are still permitted to land there, even if they’re much bigger than Hawkair’s Dash-8 plane.
But Mr. Jarvis thinks that Hawkair may just be using the change as an excuse to pull out of an unprofitable run.
“I think they’re trying to make up their minds,” he said, “They’re not selling tickets.” Since Hawkair arrived, he said, they have been flying with a third to a half as many passengers as Pacific Coastal airline, which is flying a much smaller plane.
“Hawkair has changed their minds,” he said, “They’re looking at the numbers, and they haven’t done as well as they had anticipated.”
Spencer Smith, from Pacific Coastal, said that they have been affected by the decertification, but mostly just because they are now embroiled in a paperwork “war.”
Pacific Coastal chose to go ahead and obtain certification from Transport Canada (the special permission to fly to a decertified airport as a scheduled carrier) and they have had their application accepted. Mr. Smith said that it’s possible for Hawkair to do the same. Basically, it’s just a bunch of new hoops to jump through. Pacific Coastal has to come up with new arrival and departure plans, that have to be given the seal of approval by Transport Canada.
Pacific Coastal has been flying their Beachcraft 1900 (19 passenger) plane from Masset to Vancouver daily now for several months, and Mr. Smith said that it’s going “better than expected” in terms of business. “We hope it continues,” he said.
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