The Canadian federal government wants Vancouver International Airport to spend US$68 million building a major new runway to relieve congestion that's delaying 40 percent of all flights there.
Benoit Bouchard, Canadian transport minister, said that only a new
runway will keep up with the rapid growth taking place in passenger volumes at the British Columbian airport.''Vancouver needs this if it is to fulfill its role as a center for Pacific Rim trade, tourism and commerce," he said. He said he has asked Lucien Bouchard, Canadian environment minister, to establish a federal panel to study the environmental and economic effects of the new runway.
Canada's federal government still owns the airport, but it is
tentatively scheduled to be transferred to a new local authority sometime next year. Mr. Bouchard said he expects that funds for the expansion would come
from local sources.
Frank O'Neill, the airport's general manager, said the airport recognizes the need for the new runway. He said the 288,000 takeoffs and landings at the airport last year were 12,000 above capacity, and the situation is expected to get worse.
If the environmental work can be completed promptly, construction of the new runway might begin late next year and be completed in late 1994. Airport planners say the additional parallel runway, a mile north of Vancouver's existing main runway, would make it possible for up to 70 percent more aircraft to use the airport.
More than 9 million passengers and about 127,000 tons of air cargo passed through Vancouver airport last year. Most of the traffic used the single east-west runway, though traffic has been routed onto a crosswind
runway under some weather conditions and during repair and construction projects.
Joe Sims, planning director at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, said Vancouver is far enough away from Seattle that it is not normally thought of as a direct competitor.
Some restrictions on service in Vancouver, however, have resulted in additional passengers flying into Seattle instead.
Because Canada's federal government tries to protect its domestic airlines and give them rights to the limited space at the Vancouver airport, lower-cost U.S. airlines have found it difficult or impossible to get all the Vancouver landing rights they might want.
As a result, some passengers bound for Vancouver ride the lower-cost flights into Seattle, then either drive north or take commuter planes to
airports in Bellingham, Wash., or other cities near Vancouver.
Mr. Sims said construction of a new runway alone would have little impact on Seattle passenger traffic, but acknowledged that an expanded Vancouver airport under local control might lobby the Canadian federal government to allow U.S. airlines with more competitive fares to call in Vancouver.
''Clearly, Vancouver needs the runway," Mr. Sims said. "They've been congested there for some time."
He pointed out that even with two major runways operating at Seattle- Tacoma International, the Pacific Northwest's largest airport experiences occasional aircraft delays.
Micheline Brodeur, chief spokeswoman at the Vancouver airport, said the environmental work to be done next year will examine the potential impacts of noise and effects on birds and other wildlife. She added, however, that many of the loudest complaints about noise have occurred because the airport currently has only one east-west runway.
When that runway must be repaired or go out of service for construction, planes must be put on a crosswind runway that takes them directly over Vancouver instead of out to sea, she said.
Mr. Bouchard said in a prepared statement that he believes the congestion at Vancouver must be relieved if British Columbia is going to continue to prosper economically.
Traffic through that the number of takeoffs and landings has grown faster than at any other Canadian airport, increasing 50 percent since 1984, he said.
The Vancouver airport employs 14,000 people directly, and is estimated to generate another 17,000 spinoff jobs. The airport pumps about US$2.3 billion a year into the local economy.
Mr. Bouchard said that while the Vancouver airport is working toward construction of a new runway, its managers plan to implement a computerized
runway capacity-management system, a new minimum landing fee and a flight reservation system that would make it possible to cap the number of arrivals and departures during peak periods.