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     Stephenville council providing up to another $135,000 for airport

10 October 2009

Stephenville town council is once again coming to the aid of the Stephenville airport with special financing of up to $135,000 for the repair of beacon lights on the hills at the approach to the runway.

But the vote on the issue, which has to be ratified at a general meeting of council, didn’t pass unanimously.

Coun. Cec Stein said in all good conscience he couldn’t support the motion without having some kind of a budget from the airport corporation showing its financial position.

“While I feel bad about not supporting the airport, I also believe I have a mandate to spend taxpayers’ money effectively and efficiently,” he said. “There is no guarantee that in two or three months they won’t be back looking for more money.”

Stein said when groups are out looking for money they have to be accountable, and at this stage the airport corporation should have financial statements available.

He also said Coun. Darren Roberts, finance chairman, was not at the meeting and that he would have liked to get his opinion on this matter.

Larry Smith, airport manager, said, during an interview earlier in the day, there has been a problem with batteries resutling in five beacon lights not staying lit. As a result, the airport was recently advised by Transport Canada that Runway 27 has been reclassified to a non-instrument category.

Smith explained the hills on the approach to Runway 27 protrude some 300 feet into the glide slope coming into the airport, and to maintain certification the five beacons are required by Transport Canada to be lit at all times during hours of darkness.

“If the beacons are not lit, and we’re operating as a non-instrument category, the minimums for that runway rise to a 500 feet ceiling and one and a half mile visibility, which limits the traffic that can come into our airport,” Smith said. Smith said about 15 per cent of the aircraft that come to the airports in the province, including St. John’s, Gander and Deer Lake use Stephenville as an alternate.

“What this means is that if problems continue with the lights, it would eliminate us as an alternate,” he said.

While the five lights are all solar-powered, the energy is collected in storage batteries. Each light has a total of eight batteries with each battery weighing about 350 pounds so there is an additional cost, as the batteries have to be ferried to the beacon sites by helicopter.

Smith said Stephenville airport currently doesn’t have the financial resources for that type of expenditure. He said this particular year has been financially difficult for the airport largely because of good weather. From April to June the airport generally makes about half of it yearly income from diverted traffic.

Normally during those months, other airports are experiencing weather that Smith says is below limits for aircraft. However, this year the east coast and central had good weather, and Stephenville didn’t get the aircraft it normally does, he added.