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A Harbour Air float plane, centre, taxis on Burrard Inlet as workers look out from a new float plane terminal under construction in Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday January 19, 2011. Float plane operators are embroiled in a dispute with the developers of the new $22 million facility scheduled to open in May over a $12 one-way fee for passengers departing from and arriving at the new terminal. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press/Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)
A Harbour Air float plane, centre, taxis on Burrard Inlet as workers look out from a new float plane terminal under construction in Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday January 19, 2011. Float plane operators are embroiled in a dispute with the developers of the new $22 million facility scheduled to open in May over a $12 one-way fee for passengers departing from and arriving at the new terminal. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press/Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Mayors to hear pitch for new float-plane hub Add to ...

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson has invited counterparts from other waterfront cities to hear a pitch from seaplane companies for a transportation hub east of Canada Place.

The meeting, scheduled for Friday, comes as float-plane operators and developers of a new $22-million terminal nearing completion at the convention centre are feuding over the costs of using the new facility, which seaplane companies say would add $12 to the cost of each flight to and from the terminal.

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Banding together as the Vancouver Commercial Seaplane Operators Association, eight seaplane companies last month proposed building a terminal of their own on a different site.

That site, owned by Port Metro Vancouver, has been previously ruled out as a float plane base over congestion and safety concerns. VCSOA says those concerns are not warranted and the site offers several advantages, including better transit connections, over the convention centre location.

Nanaimo Mayor John Ruttan plans to attend the Friday session to consider the "harbour hub" proposal.

"The issue is one of affordability," Mr. Ruttan said on Wednesday. "On a round-trip flight from Nanaimo to Vancouver, that's a $24 surcharge - and we just feel that is excessive."

The seaplane companies say they transport more than 340,000 passengers a year to and from the Vancouver harbour, making it the province's fourth-busiest airport measured by number of passengers.

Currently, float planes operate from a site on Coal Harbour, where they were bumped to make room for the construction of the new convention centre.

From that makeshift home, float-plane operations were expected to move to the Vancouver Harbour Flight Centre, a new terminal that will feature about 18 slips as well as space for shops and offices.

But to date, Vancouver Harbour Flight Centre and the float-plane companies have not been able to reach an agreement over costs, even as the clock ticks down toward an expected May opening. On Wednesday, VHFC president Graham Clarke said the two parties were negotiating. VCSAO president Greg McDougall, however, said his group had rejected a recent rental proposal and that no negotiations were under way.





Additional costs are to be expected as part of a new, customer-friendly terminal, Mr. Clarke said. And he disputed the float plane operators' characterization of those costs as a passenger levy, saying the amount reflects a rent formula and would not show up on customers' tickets as a separate amount.

Mr. McDougall dismissed that argument, saying float-plane companies would have no choice but to pass costs on to their customers. "If we paid what he is asking for rent, we would be broke - we would be out of business."

In a proposal to Port Metro Vancouver, VCOSA says its facility would cost $12-million and could be completed by July 31, 2012, and that the operators could move their current facility to the new site "within weeks of receiving permission" and could operate at the new location as the facility is being built.

The port expects to decide within weeks whether it supports a full assessment of the site, spokesman Duncan Wilson said. "We would not put them through that process unless we are sure we could approve an application on that side [of the convention centre]" he said.

Follow on Twitter: @wendy_stueck

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