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Qualicum Beach Aiport future up in the air

A tall stand of trees at one end of the Qualicum Beach airport is causing a major headache to airport officials and pilots alike.

Following an inspection of Island airports by Transport Canada officials in August, officials determined there were trees growing too tall at one end of a runway.

That's a serious problem, as it restricts the size of airplane that can safely land and could lead to more dire consequences for the facility.

In a letter to the Regional District of Nanaimo, Qualicum Beach CAO Mark Brown laid out his options to resolve the issue.

He said although the municipality had the ability to require landowners to either top or remove the trees, this did not prove necessary with the trees blocking the approach to runway 11 as all the landowners involved agreed to co-operate.

However Brown said this was not the case for trees at the end of runway 29, which are growing on land outside municipal boundaries. The landowner in this case, he said, refused to allow the trees to be cut — and the regional district has no ability to force the issue.

Brown said Transport Canada required the town to detail an action plan to deal with the issue by implementing one of three options.

The first of these was to permanently move the threshold of runway 29, which Brown noted this option would prove costly as it would require all the runway markings to be removed and repainted, lights to be moved and changes would be required to the taxiway. As well, it would reduce the landing distance from 3,364 feet to 2,793, leaving little safety margin for night operations on wet runways.

The second option, to surrender the airport certificate, had even more dire consequences.

Decertification would prevent any scheduled flight service out of the airport, and re-certification at a later date, Brown noted, would likely prove difficult or impossible.

Lars Banke, owner of KD Air, which operates out of the facility, said such a move would essentially mean the end of his business in Qualicum Beach.

"It would kill us," he said. "We just couldn't operate."

The third option available to the town is to restrict the size of aircraft that operate at the airport to those with wingspans below 15 metres.

The average wingspan of aircraft currently operating is well below that, at 12.4 metres. That's because the larger an aircraft, the shallower its angle of descent when landing.

In his letter, Brown asked the RDN to help the town retain the certification of the airport, noting the situation is serious.

"It is understood that if continued negotiation with the property owner, or legal action to alter the trees penetrating the approach surface of runway 29 ... is unsuccessful, the long term viability of Qualicum Beach as a certified airport is uncertain."

In an interview, Qualicum Beach RDN director Dave Willie noted Qualicum Beach is not the only airport facing such a problem and said the town is asking the district to include them in their negotiations with Ottawa in regards to trees at the Nanaimo airport.

"The RDN is going through the same process of dealing with this through zoning with the federal government," Willie said. "We are saying we don't want to start that process all over again. We are saying it's in (the RDN's) area so whatever you do when you resolve that problem, make sure we are involved."

As well, the town is asking the RDN to adopt a bylaw in relation to nuisance trees and request the federal government to delegate the power to restrict the height of objects to the regional district.

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