Monday, June 27, 2011

Come Fly With Me

This month Vancouver's newest airport officially opened and, in keeping with the city's seaside location, it was a float plane terminal rather than a traditional land based airport.  Located in Coal Harbour, with the downtown core and convention centre forming a stunning backdrop, it offers a long overdue facility to service the explosion of travellers preferring to get around by plane instead of using a ferry. Of course this being the Vancouver waterfront nothing was accomplished without all sorts of controversy.

Convention Centre Airport photo by Junie Quiroga

The two main airline companies (Harbour Air and WestCoast Air) are protesting the higher landing/takeoff fees at the new airport and are refusing to move from the old airport.  The old airport was only meant to be a temporary facility and its present location was established over the protests of the local residents. The local residents in turn only got their location after negotiations between the land developers and various waterfront users.

Of course it wasn't always this way.  Before float planes became the choice of businessmen and tourists they were the backbone of the forestry industry.  Coal Harbour was a railway switching yard and the float plane airport was at the Bayshore Hotel where broke loggers would show up to go back to camp while others flush with cash would be disembarking and ready to hit the town. The only thing in common between the old and the new times are the airplanes themselves; particularly the Beaver, the iconic symbol of the Canadian aircraft industry.


Designed in 1947 by the de Havilland company as a rugged short take off and landing craft (STOL) for the bush that could be fitted with either wheels, skis or floats, it quickly became the workhorse of the world with over 1,600 manufactured by 1967 when production finally ceased.  However hundreds of Beavers are still in use today and a company in Victoria now has the rights to produce the replacement parts as well as any new airplanes.

Harbour Air plane

While the heydays of logging may be over the spectacular scenery of the west coast will remain forever, and the best way to get around, not to mention the fastest, is by float plane.  Compare a half day of ferry travel with a 40 minute airplane ride for practically the same price and you can see why so many float plane operators have sprung up.  In fact it has even been suggested the float plane may become as synonymous with Vancouver as the trolleys are with San Francisco.
West Coast Air plane

The new seaplane airport at the convention centre is bound to increase the float plane traffic which already is up to 55,000 flights per year, the 33rd busiest airport in Canada and the 8th busiest in B.C. In spite of the increased fees this beautiful new facility has to be good news for travellers, aircraft operators and of course the Beaver.