The MD of Bonnyville and Town council discussed upgrades to the Bonnyville airport with Cenovus, Imperial Oil and Canadian Natural (CNRL) at a joint meeting. As a result, Cenovus has entered into a verbal agreement to help fund the project and the other companies have expressed interest in doing the same.
The agreement was discussed publicly at both council meetings last week and Town Coun. Rene Van Brabant said Cenovus will be contributing approximately $300,000.
Cenovus representatives said they have confirmed a budget already because they are the Bonnyville airport's busiest user and want to contribute to the communities they serve. Upgrades will include GPS and weather technology information.
“One of the reasons we've already stepped forward is we are the largest user of the Bonnyville airport so we recognise our responsibility as a good corporate citizen to do our part, to make sure the region and the community is going to benefit from our being here, our presence,” said Shane Freeson, from Cenovus Foster Creek.
Van Brabant said Cenovus uses the Bonnyville airport four times a week now. Freeson said their usage may increase when the upgrades are complete.
Freeson outlined six important upgrades that should take place in Bonnyville to increase the airport's effectiveness. Some of these will be funded by the Town and MD, some by Cenovus, and some they are hoping will be paid for by other contributors.
“A couple of the things that are quite important to Cenovus is the WAAS item (Wide Area Augmentation System) and the AWOS (weather system). Those are probably the two things that we deem as more of a priority,” said Freeson. “We want to increase the likelihood of being able to land. We're more interested in being able to land more often with what we have by avoiding some of the visibility and issues caused by weather.”
Cenovus said their donation should cover WAAS and AWOS technology.
“WAAS is a tool that combines the GPS technology and allows the pilots to get a little bit lower to the ground before they land,” said Freeson.
“Today, they can only come down to 500 feet above ground level before they can attempt to make a landing. By putting this WAAS technology in, we will be able to reduce that down to 250 feet. So it gives us a better chance to land in the fog and the rain and in poor visibility conditions.”
As for AWOS, Freeson said this helps to determine what the weather is in Bonnyville before landing, which will allow for more flights to be made in Bonnyville.
“Typically, they're coming out of Calgary and they like to phone ahead and check the weather in Bonnyville. Today, that does not exist. We actually end up using the weather station from the Cold Lake region. It's close but it's not exactly representative of what's happening in Bonnyville,” he said.
Some other upgrades Freeson said should happen include repainting runway lines, building a larger apron for parking planes, updating the lighting system and some external services such as de-icing technology.
Van Brabant said the Town and the MD are both contributing $100,000 each this year for further upgrades, which should be put toward lighting and repainting airstrip lines.
With these upgrades, Freeson said more flights will be made and fewer cancellations or re-routings will take place.
“It will reduce the number of flight cancellations and diversions. In one month (January 2004), 30 per cent (of the flights did not land in Bonnyville) mostly due to fog,” he said. In this case, they were re-routed to Lloydminster, Cold Lake or even back to Calgary.
“By making these improvements, the whole area is going to benefit by allowing more people in as the area grows, as well as accommodating those who want to travel outside of the region.”
Van Brabant says Cenovus' contribution should be available immediately.
“I said, ‘Is this money available right now?' They said yes. I said, ‘We can order the equipment right now?' And they gave us the okay to order the equipment immediately,” said Van Brabant, who said upgrades should begin shortly.
Even though Cenovus is the only company who has confirmed an amount so far, Cenovus representatives and Town and MD councillors said they expect other corporate companies who use the airport to also contribute.
“I'm almost positive they will,” said Van Brabant. “That's what their response was, that they want to do it on a shared basis per usage. The next meeting is going to be us providing them with the amount of usage each one of them is using so they can come up with a formula.”
Moving forward, the Town is planning to put together a schedule and budget stating which companies use the airports and how much, which will be used as a formula to determine how much each company should contribute to the upgrades and upkeep.
“It's a fairly simple way of doing it,” said Van Brabant. “We know which companies are using it and we know Cenovus comes in four times a week already. We know that for sure. But we just have to find out how many times CNRL, Devon, Shell, Imperial Oil, and all the other companies around here use it.”
“Hopefully, we're going to see some of our corporate friends and users of the airport contribute as well,” said Freeson.