The Terrace-Kitimat (Northwest Regional) airport wants the federal government to offer border entry and customs services at the facility.
Doing so will make the airport a more attractive location for aircraft arriving from other countries, says facility manager Carman Hendry.
Right now an aircraft flying from Alaska to Washington State needing fuel, for example, cannot land here because it cannot receive customs and border clearance, he said.
“If it does want to land here, it first has to land at another airport offering clearance,” said Hendry.
In this part of the world, the closest such airport offering clearance is Prince Rupert but that facility does not sell fuel. Smithers would be a next choice and it does sell fuel.
Hendry said the demand for border and customs clearance here will increase because of the growth in industrial activity in the region.
A company bringing in workers from another country will find it that much cheaper if its aircraft can land here directly without first having to clear customs at another airport.
“There’s time – those workers get paid travel time – there’s fuel costs and aircraft costs to think of,” said Hendry.
Until 2006 aircraft from other countries could land here because of a service called Canpass, essentially a phone line connecting a caller to customs officers based in Kitimat.
“An aircraft would land and taxi to a specific spot on the runway. Someone from the aircraft would then use the phone and be told have a nice time or wait, someone is coming to talk to you,” said Hendry of the Canpass service.
That service ended when the federal government pulled its customs officers from Kitimat and sent them to Prince Rupert.
Hendry now says the growth in Kitimat marine traffic and growth in air traffic justifies bringing that kind of service back.
“We want to be able to clear people who come in here,” said Hendry. “Even if it was cost recovery that’s fine. These people will pay that. It would be cheaper than the costs they have now by having to land someplace else first.”
The airport has been working on the problem for three years and has recently been told that its business case is being studied.
“We’ve been told not to expect a speedy answer and not to necessarily expect a positive one,” said Hendry.
Local agencies and governments do support the return of the Canpass plan.