Study Assessed the Feasibility of Developing a New Airport in the Cowichan Region

Nov 13, 2019

Photo: Harbour Air

The Cowichan Air Transport Feasibility Study, commissioned by Economic Development Cowichan (EDC) in partnership with the Duncan Flying Club, determined the advantages of expanded air transport balanced with the cost of providing this service for the region.

Dillon Consulting Ltd was contracted to undertake the study with coordination by local aviation expert, Robert Stitt. The feasibility study looks at the various levels of government regulations and financial supports, develops goals for air transport and then considers options as to how to achieve or meet these goals.

The study identifies that an air transport facility is feasible for the Cowichan region, and that this feasibility is driven by the lease of industrial land. It also identifies numerous benefits to having a regional airport that are not included in the financial analysis such as providing essential air services, including air ambulance, search and rescue, emergency evacuation, and forest fire response. Based on recommendations for optimum characteristics for an airport, and a number of assumptions, the study demonstrated that an airport would be feasible and that the total cost would be approximately $20 million.

When considering the overall feasibility of an air transport facility, it should be noted that in order to be financially viable, the facility would need to include the associated groundside business and services, which could provide revenue to support the overall airport operation. Furthermore, the air transport facility site would need to be located adjacent to a major road and to the new hospital site, start-up capital of $7 million would be needed, and community support for construction would need to be confirmed. Additionally, sufficient demand for industrial land is required as a primary revenue source to support the airport’s ongoing operation.

The Cowichan Industrial Land Use Strategy, published in 2019, recognizes that with less than half a percentage point of the total land base in Cowichan zoned or designated as industrial, the need to coordinate, manage, develop and expand the footprint of key employment lands must be a priority for local government if the diversification of our local employment base is to continue.

The Air Transport Feasiblity Study provides a basis for providing both the air transport services and benefits for the region while supporting the provision of industrial lands. While there are clear benefits to having a regional Cowichan Airport, there are drawbacks as well as risks associated with airport development.

Firstly, given that the feasibility of this project is contingent upon demand for Industrial land, in turn driven by market conditions and price, it should be noted that this project is only feasible where industrial land is at least $9 per ft2. Current prices are closer to $15 per ft2 as a result of constrained supply, and the study assumes prices will be $12 per ft2 over the project lifespan. A significant shock to the market may negatively influence the feasibility of the proposed project.

A potential drawback of the project is that the provision of a regional airport may run contrary to attempts to fight climate change, notwithstanding advances in clean aviation technologies. Additionally, finding a suitable site for an airport while addressing any community concerns regarding, for example, noise and perceived safety issues, may be seen as a barrier to development. Consultation of anyone within 4 km of the proposed project is mandated before any funding or approvals are given by Transport Canada and consultation has not been factored into the estimated project costs.

On October 23, 2019 the Cowichan Air Transport Feasibility Study was presented to the CVRD Regional Services Committee for information. To view the presentation click here: https://bit.ly/2qsHt6c

Should there be interest to pursue this further, then the next step is to investigate potential locations, complete community engagement and complete the studies to determine the actual develop-ability and costs of the selected site.

To read the Cowichan Air Transport Feasibility Study click here: https://bit.ly/34I2kBJ

(News Source: CVRD Cowichan – Economic Development)

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