Fred Bigelow knows firsthand the results of what can happen when a community gets together.
The former base commander of 19 Wing Comox and now the Chief Executive Officer for the Comox Valley Airport recalls the anniversary of both a significant transportation and economic driver in the Comox Valley — the construction of the new F/O.C. Cottingham Terminal.
“I remember (former airport CEO) Chuck Fast walking us through the construction site. Now the beneficiaries of that decision are the staff and citizens of the Comox Valley,” he explained.
Ten years ago, the Comox Valley Airport opened its doors to the new terminal and made the transition to a full service, modern facility which now accommodates hundreds of thousands of passengers per year.
Wednesday, the airport celebrated the significant anniversary following the Comox Valley Airport Commission’s annual public meeting, with displays and dignitaries reflecting on the work it took to get the terminal building to where it is today.
Bigelow credits the determination and vision of board members — including Fast — to help shape the facility and meet the needs of travellers now and into the future.
“The guys had the vision and they really put their shoulders into it to make sure the project came out on time and on budget.
“This is an amazing facility for an area this size, and we do very well,” he noted.
“It’s a chance to say thanks.”
The original YQQ terminal building was built by the Department of National Defence and opened in 1956. Transport Canada operated the terminal until 1995 when it withdrew financial and/or operational involvement in Canadian airports.
The Comox Valley Airport Commission (CVAC) was formed in 1996 and in May 1997, CVAC purchased the terminal from Transport Canada for $1.
CVAC operates the civil aviation facilities at YQQ, including the terminal and apron, while the airfield and its associated systems are operated by the Royal Canadian Air Force at 19 Wing Comox on a 24-hour basis.
In January 2001, WestJet announced it would begin offering flights at YQQ, and CVAC added temporary portables to the original terminal building to accommodate increased traffic.
“The old facility was just really small. When the bags arrived for the passengers, it was like a feeding frenzy at a shark tank,” said Bigelow, and added the board had the vision to anticipate the growth of WestJet flights in the Valley.
Negotiations with the Department of National Defence for lease of the land took place at the same time a business case was being development for the terminal facility.
In February 2003, 87.5 per cent of taxpayers voted in favour of providing a $4 million capital grant to CVAC to help construct the new terminal.
The commission was able to leverage the grant along with its own investment, and to obtain additional funds from the provincial and federal governments which made construction of a new facility possible.
Bigelow explained looking ahead, CVAC will be looking to do “modest but significant capital improvements and create an infrastructure plan.”
He noted with the June announcement of the minimum instrument approach adopted by DND to prevent unnecessary cancellations and divisions in poor weather, and a recent announcement by WestJet to increase their service to and from YQQ, “the bottom line is very, very solid.”