This 1954 Piper Pacer aircraft owned by local pilots Sue Jones and Chuck Dickson is being reconditioned in Vanderhoof. They’d love to have it located at the Houston Airport. (Sue Jones photo)

Airport improvements could spur increased use

Also regarded as base for search and rescue operations

The District of Houston should consider revitalizing its airport, says a local pilot.

Sue Jones, who with flying partner Chuck Dickson has recently purchased and is reconditioning an aircraft, says a revitalized airport could attract general aviation enthusiasts and serve as a base for increased economic activity in the area tied to the Coastal GasLink pipeline construction and other projects.

And crucially, Jones added, the airport can play a vital role in supporting air-based search and rescue operations through the Civil Air Search and Rescue Association (CASARA), a national volunteer organization which works closely with the Provincial Emergency Program in what’s called PEP Air. The organization is also supported by the military.

Jones spoke to the District of Houston council at its Sept. 3 session.

“I was not there to make a specific request. Just to provide information that would connect the District to pilots and to the potential,” she said following the meeting.

Jones and Dickson now keep their aircraft at the Vanderhoof Airport but said given improvements at the local airport, they and other local pilots would use it as a home base.

Jones herself now has joined CASARA which is active in Smithers and is working on full certification as a volunteer PEP Air pilot.

“One of the issues is that there is no fuel [availability] in Houston. Pilots fly to Smithers or Burns Lake,” she said of one potential service that could be offered at the airport here.

“Smithers has the most expensive fuel in the northwest. Pilots like to go where the fuel is cheapest,” Jones noted.

“What we’re thinking is that the airport needs a few tweaks to make it safer, something positive, opening the door to possibilities,” she added of the sentiment within the flying community.

Houston council also received a letter from a senior PEP Air search and rescue pilot, assistant search master and trainer with CASARA.

“The significance of Houston Airprt cannot be understated as you are directly on the Transport Canada “Black Diamond” preferred aviation route from northwest of Smithers through Houston, Burns Lake and Vanderhoof to Prince George …..,” wrote Kym Trask.

Recognizing tight municipal finances, Trask said an air show could be a revenue generator, giving a July event in Alberta as an example.

“Should you consider a similar event in your community, I’d be pleased to assist with coordination activities,” he added.

The issue of the airport’s future arose last month with the District indicating it was considering several options, including taking it out of service.

The airport’s asphalt surface is expected to significantly deteriorate after 2020 without major repairs, indicated District of Houston chief administrative officer Gerald Pinchbeck.

“At this time, staff are continuing to investigate the consequences of decommissioning the airport as one of several options council could consider,” said Pinchbeck.

According a 2017 study commissioned by the District, approximately $4.2 million would be needed in runway, taxiway and airfield lighting upgrades to improve the airport’s service capabilities. Of this, Pinchbeck said $1.2 million would be “deemed essential” for runway and taxiway asphalt overlay work.

But given the amount of time that has passed since the report was issued, Pinchbeck said the district can no longer rely on those estimates.

A new report detailing the options available and their estimated costs is expected to be presented to council in the fall, said Pinchbeck.

The airport, which has a 3,999-ft by 75-ft runway, became operational in 1982, according to the district’s website. Pavement was added in 1988.

– with files from Flavio Nienow

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