Olympic screening means change for Masset air service

  • Dec. 16, 2009 7:00 p.m.

The Winter Olympics will bring a longer flight and a reduced schedule for passengers flying between Masset and Vancouver, says the president of Pacific Coastal Airlines. But they will also bring an opportunity for islanders to fly on Pacific Coastal to or from Sandspit as well as Masset, and they will not mean higher fares, said Spencer Smith. Mr. Smith said increased security demands before, during and after the Olympics mean that all passengers must undergo screening before entering the air space around Vancouver. With no screening available in Masset, Pacific Coastal has solved that problem by re-routing its Masset flights through Sandspit between Jan. 29 and March 3. Passengers will fly from Masset to Sandspit, make a 30-minute stop for screening, and then proceed to Vancouver. There had been some talk of screening passengers in Port Hardy, Mr. Smith said, but it makes a lot more sense to use the Sandspit airport. This will also allow the airline to take on more passengers in Sandspit. Meanwhile, Mr. Smith said Pacific Coastal is expecting much less demand for flights to Vancouver from northern BC during the Olympics, and is reducing its schedule to four flights a week from five. “Business travellers tell us they’re going to be avoiding Vancouver like the plague,” Mr. Smith said. “And we don’t have any Olympic-type travel coming to us.” The security demands are costing Pacific Coastal hundreds of thousands of dollars, Mr. Smith said, mainly because the extra landing and take-off for a screening stop consumes additional fuel. Pacific Coastal has asked the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority, or CATSA, for financial help but the issue has not yet been resolved, Mr. Smith said. In some cases, CATSA will be setting up temporary screening facilities at airports which don’t have them, such as Powell River, and is covering 100 percent of the cost, Mr. Smith said. But Masset, along with Bella Coola, Anaheim Lake, and Trail, is not on the list of airports getting temporary screening, forcing Pacific Coastal to re-route these flights to other airports at its own expense, he said. “That’s the conundrum we’re faced with,” he said. “It’s going to impact us in the area of hundreds of thousands of dollars.” These costs will not be passed on to the passengers, he said. Pacific Coastal fares will stay exactly the same. Air Canada Jazz will not be changing its schedule during the Olympic period and will continue to offer one flight a day between Sandspit and Vancouver for the rest of the winter season, said spokesperson Angela Mah. The route uses a Dash-8 300 aircraft with 50 seats most of the time, she said, occasionally substituting a smaller 37-seat aircraft.