Transport Canada is once again looking at the possibility of transferring operation control of Penticton Regional Airport to local authorities.
Penticton city council voted this week to enter into informal talks with Transport Canada, after receiving a letter from the federal government, outlining their interest in divesting themselves of the 18 airports remaining under federal control.
But any discussions will have to be a group effort, according to Mayor Andrew Jakubeit.
“It’s not something that the city is tackling by itself. It is a partnership that would have to happen between the Penticton Indian Band and the regional district,” said Jakubeit.
The future of the airport and the land it is on remains a concern for the PIB, which blocked a transfer of the airport to the City of Penticton in 1999.
Chief Jonathan Kruger said the band has written a letter to Transport Canada, telling them they need to speak to the band before they speak to anyone else.
“Right now we need to sit down and talk. I believe they should be talking to the landowners, and that is the Penticton Indian Band,” said Kruger.
In 1996, as part of the National Airports Policy, Transport Canada announced it would be transferring title and responsibility of the airport to the City of Penticton. It would only transfer responsibility to a local government and it did not recognize the band as a local government.
That sparked protests by the PIB community. The airport is sited on land expropriated from the band in 1944, which was promised to be returned after the end of the Second World War. Protests came to a head in March of 1999, when a land transfer agreement was about to be signed by Transport Canada and the city.
But Kruger said the situation has changed since 1999, when the PIB community protests closed operations at the airport.
“In the past they tried to give our land away. We have come a long way from there, especially with the City of Penticton and now the regional district,” said Kruger. “I think the federal government knows, understands and respects that. These are definitely different times, but it is the same issue again. We will see what happens in the future here.”
Kruger said PIB representatives will be meeting with Transport Canada in February. The PIB has interests in developing the land around the airport, with a new channel-crossing planned at Green Avenue, and Skaha Hills residential development moving ahead.
“We also agreed at our joint council that we are going to have meetings with Transport Canada with all parties, the regional district, the City of Penticton and the southern bands.”
According to the Transport Canada letter, the city was first invited to participate in informal discussion during summer 2013. The current letter is an invitation to further discussions with particular focus on airports where local interest has been expressed, including Penticton.
“I know it has been on some agendas for some loose conversation but we have never really all the players sat in a room and said this is something we want to do or how would we make it happen,” said Jakubeit.
Since, 1994, when the National Airports Policy was introduced, the federal government has transferred ownership and/or operation of 128 airports to local interests, part of a direction to change the government’s role in airports from owner and operator towards landlord and regulator.