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Trail tally not yet taken in terms of WestJet

Castlegar mayor Lawrence Chernoff said letters are coming in fast and furious from across the region in support of the West Kootenay Regional Airport's bid to entice WestJet to Castlegar … with some glaring omissions.

"We've received letters from most communities - not all, but most - and we're getting them from residents, businesses, everyone. About 10 a day, right now," he said after council's regular meeting Monday night, adding Nelson mayor John Dooley was actually slated to be part of the delegation heading to WestJet's Calgary campus later in the month.

When asked which communities have not offered support, he said Trail city council had, to the best of his knowledge, voted only to receive-for-information Castlegar's letter requesting Trail's endorsement.

That they didn't straightaway move to offer support does not, though, mean they've opted to oppose the initiative, he cautioned, explaining that receiving a letter for information leaves the door open for any action down the road.

"I've had numerous discussions with Trail residents who support WestJet coming here," he said. "It's good for industry, small businesses, residents - it's an economic development tool for the entire region."When I go to Calgary, I'm not going to be talking about Castlegar, I'm going to be talking about the West Kootenay as a whole. We're trying to build the economic base in the Kootenays, and this is a step in that direction for everybody."

Trail mayor Dieter Bogs told The Source today (Thursday) that he wasn't yet prepared to take a position on the issue. Bogs indicated he'd spoken to Chernoff and requested some information which he has not yet received, and is thus unwilling to comment at this time.

Councillor Kevin Chernoff, who also sits on the airport's advisory committee, said he thinks it just makes sense for Trail to get on board, as the Trail airport is not a viable alternative to support WestJet as a carrier.

"I don't think they have the infrastructure in terms of length-of-runway, the tower, security, and so on," he said, adding Trail would have to incur massive costs to upgrade to the necessary levels - requirements the West Kootenay Regional Airport already meets or exceeds.

"The Trail airport is funded by area taxpayers, whereas the Castlegar airport is self-sufficient,” he added, pointing out the Castlegar-vs-Trail landing problem is, at least in part, more of a perception problem, as Trail’s Pacific Coastal flights have been forced to land in Castlegar many times due to inclement weather.

“They use a lot of our infrastructure – like our locating beacons and tower – to come through the valley and land in Trail,” he said. “Without our tower, their landing limits would increase, making a lot of Trail traffic inviable.”

He said it’s exactly this collaborative approach that he’d like to see at work in the regional airport’s bid to get WestJet on board, and both Chernoffs, along with Bogs, said rumours of a previous tri-city initiative to lure WestJet to the region are false, and no such joint venture was ever in the works.

Finally, in response to concerns raised by a Nelson councillor in regard to environmental degradation resulting from more flights in and out of the region, mayor Lawrence Chernoff said the new technology WestJet employs will mean reduced fuel consumption, as will more efficient travel methods.

“People are travelling anyway – this way, they’ll be travelling in state-of-the-art airplanes that use less fuel,” he said. “A missed approach by a larger plane uses more fuel, dozens of people driving uses fuel – the point is, to facilitate the most efficient travel possible, which means the least environmental impact.”