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A Harbour Air float plane comes in for landing into Vancouver’s harbour on May 16, 2011. (JOHN LEHMANN/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
A Harbour Air float plane comes in for landing into Vancouver’s harbour on May 16, 2011. (JOHN LEHMANN/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

Harbour Air agrees to move to contentious location Add to ...

A dispute over float-plane operations in downtown Vancouver has been resolved, with Vancouver-based Harbour Air agreeing to move to the Vancouver Harbour Flight Centre from a temporary location in Coal Harbour.

The deal means float-plane operations will be based in one facility, not the two that have operated side-by-side for more than a year.

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Under the agreement, announced Monday, Harbour Air is to move from its current Coal Harbour base to the VHFC terminal at the north end of the city’s expanded convention centre by the end of 2012.

But Harbour Air – which had balked at moving into the new facility, citing cost and safety concerns – will not use VHFC’s docks. Instead, an extension will be built to accommodate its fleet.

“The issue over there [at VHFC] has been exposure to wind and waves. Our concern operationally was that we didn’t have enough available space there, protected space, to accommodate our fleet,” Harbour Air Greg McDougall said on Monday. “And this will give us that [space].”

Harbour Air will pay to build the extension, which will cost an estimated $2-million, Mr. McDougall said.

The VHFC, built by the Clark and Ledcor groups, was built for about $20-million and opened in May 2011. But float-plane companies balked at moving in, citing rent that would add $12 to each flight in and out of the harbour.

Even after B.C. Pavilion Corp. – which runs the convention centre and leases a water lot and terminal space to VHFC – stepped in to provide a rent break to VHFC, allowing it to cut its rental rates, only a handful of smaller operators moved.

Float plane operators also raised questions about the design and safety of VHFC docks.

The agreement will result in Harbour Air passengers paying an additional $9.50 per flight in and out of the harbour, Mr. McDougall said. Harbour Air will collect that fee from passengers and pass it on to VHFC as payment for using its new facility, he said.

The stand-off also involved the city, which granted the permit that allowed Harbour Air to operate from its Coal Harbour base since 2004 and was eager to see a waterfront seawall completed.

With Harbour Air agreeing to decommission its Coal Harbour terminal, PavCo expects to begin construction on the seawall connection in November.

“A resolution in the matter is good for the people of Coal Harbour and for all the parties involved,” Deputy Premier Rich Coleman said Monday in a statement. “We are happy to see that mediation has been able to bring conclusion to this issue and appreciate all the parties working on the solution.”

The dispute has cost taxpayers money and could have been avoided, said NDP MLA and tourism critic Spencer Chandra Herbert.

“We’ve got a high user fee and we have a taxpayer subsidy,” he said, referring to the rent break provided by PavCo to VHFC.

“And those brand new docks look like one of the most expensive breakwaters you could imagine.”

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