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Surrey mayor wants a network of helipads across the city

Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner walks off the stage after giving her State of the City address and the city's economic outlook and plans for the coming year at a luncheon in Surrey, B.C. May 20, 2015.

Jeff Vinnick/The Globe and Mail

People travelling the 40 kilometres between Surrey and Vancouver tend to drive or take transit. Surrey's mayor wants to add a third option: helicopter.

Mayor Linda Hepner said Thursday that Surrey is in talks with a consortium of private helicopter companies to create a network of helipads across the city – which currently has the second-largest population in B.C., behind Vancouver, and is growing by 1,000 new residents a month.

The city is hoping to facilitate helicopter service between itself and Vancouver, Victoria and Kelowna for those who can afford it. In her annual state of the city address, Ms. Hepner said Surrey is talking to the private helicopter companies about potential sites in both north and south Surrey.

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"As we continue to develop our transit opportunities here on the ground, I'm pleased to announce that we're also looking up," she said. At this point, there are no commercial helipads in Surrey. However, there are take-off and landing options in Langley, Richmond and Delta. In Vancouver, there is a commercial landing spot on the city harbour operated by the port authority.

Helicopters offering commercial service can generally only operate from property that meets Transport Canada regulations.

Ms. Hepner said Surrey is attracting 2,000 new companies a year, including regional headquarters, as well as national and multinational companies. That, she said, is creating a demand for the helicopter service as people seek a means of getting around.

As Ms. Hepner noted in her speech, Surrey is a massive city. It is five times larger than Manhattan, three times the size of Paris and twice as large as Miami. In a telling B.C comparison, the 300-square-kilometre city is larger in area than Vancouver, Richmond and Burnaby combined.

"We have a lot of executives now moving in," Ms. Hepner told reporters following her speech. "Quite frankly, we've had some inquiries on, 'Wouldn't it be easy if we could just go from Surrey to North Vancouver in a heartbeat, which, they apparently, would do."

She emphasized the city is looking beyond links between Vancouver and Surrey to flights to the B.C. capital of Victoria, which she said she would use herself.

Ms. Hepner said the city is now nailing down specific sites. "I know that it takes a while."

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She said she hopes to have construction under way by this time in 2017.

Anita Huberman, chief executive officer of the Surrey Board of Trade, said helicopter service is a reasonable possibility for the city to explore. "It's not a cheap alternative to do this. You have to have the funds," she said. "As congestion continues, people are looking for alternative ways to get from south to north."

Andrew Westlund, president of Sky Helicopters, said his company has been talking to Surrey about this issue for several years.

"I believe there's an argument that [helicopters] are faster, greener and cheaper," he said, noting that he could fly a client from Surrey to Vancouver in 10 minutes compared with an hour's drive.

Mr. Westlund said the cost of a flight would vary between $12 and $16 per minute. "If we are this innovative city and growing, let's connect the two cities together," he said.

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