The Erik Nielsen Whitehorse International Airport. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News)

Airlines raise concerns about the Yukon’s proposed airports bill

‘It doesn’t appear it’s as harmless as we were led to believe’

The presidents of both of the territory’s local airlines are raising concerns about the Yukon government’s proposed Public Airports Act.

Air North’s Joe Sparling and Alkan Air’s Wendy Tayler say there hasn’t been enough consultation on the act which has taken up much of the debate this week in the Yukon Legislative Assembly.

Sparling and Tayler say government discussed with them the need for the legislation in broad strokes but never mentioned it was going to include an option to introduce an airport improvement fee.

Sparling said he hadn’t seen the legislation when the government first approached him to talk about it. “I think having seen the document, that’s raised some concerns. It doesn’t appear it’s as harmless as we were led to believe.”

Tayler said there was never any mention of an airport improvement fee to her. “It’s come up in the media this week,” she said.

Even though Highways and Public Works Minister Richard Mostyn has repeatedly promised the Liberals won’t be implementing a fee, Tayler said the option for one needs to be removed.

“At this stage it is clear that the act is structured to allow that to occur at some point in the future and it would be important to see that removed,” she said.

Most airports in Canada have airport improvement fees. Earlier this year the airport in Yellowknife introduced a $10 per ticket fee for flights heading north from the city and $20 for flights heading south.

Sparling said he believes that decision is something the Government of Northwest Territories is “going to regret.”

“It will cause less people to travel and people to travel less often. I think that’s a big mistake. I’d hate to see our Yukon government follow that as an example.”

The airlines aren’t the only ones complaining about the Yukon government’s handing of the situation. On Oct. 11 the Northern Air Transport Association, which the government has said it consulted, wrote an email to Mostyn asking him to correct the record.

In August the government’s assistant deputy minister of transportation had a “very quick discussion” with the organization on the proposed act, according to the letter signed by executive director Glenn Priestley.

“There was no draft legislative document to reference,” according to the letter, which was obtained by the CBC.

“This short conversation in no way can be construed as ‘consultation’ and the reference to NATA in the press release needs to be removed.”

For three days this week the official Opposition has gone after the government, calling on it to remove the section of the act that would allow an airport improvement fee and do more consultation.

“It is quite obvious that the minister has really dropped the ball on the consultations for the Public Airports Act,” Yukon Party MLA Scott Kent told the house Oct. 12.

“We have heard from a number of industry representatives who are saying that they were not properly consulted on this legislation. This is in direct contradiction to what the minister told this House yesterday — and I would like to quote the minister: ‘We are listening to industry and we shared the draft act.’”

Mostyn said draft legislation was shared with members of the industry.

Yukon is the only major airport operator in Canada without legislation governing airport activities. Mostyn called the current situation a “mess of acts and policies and whatnot.”

Plans to create a single act have been on the books since the government took over control of airports in 1996, Mostyn said.

“We heard concerns about the inability of the aviation industry to lease land — a long-standing issue. We heard about the need for clear and fair processes. We heard about the need to protect airport land,” he said.

All that would come in the regulations that will be written once the act is passed.

Tayler said she understands why an airport act is important but thinks there needs to be more consultations with people outside of the airline industry.

“I would suggest it makes sense to get all of the stakeholders, which is each and every Yukoner that’s interested in being engaged in a conversation to ensure that the proposed act when it comes forward in the legislature is truly representative of all Yukoners.”

Mostyn has so far refused that idea. The government chose to consult with people in the industry, he told reporters.

“I saw a need to consult industry on a fairly technical industry-related piece of legislation.”

The section of the act dealing with fees isn’t just for airport improvement fees, Mosytn said, there are other reasons the government might need to collect fees.

“There’s a gift shop up at the airport, how do we collect that money? Somebody wants to open up a hotdog stand and sell hotdogs in the airport parking lot? How do we collect that fee?” he said.

He said it’s important for the act to be “flexible.”

“You have to be able to write it so that … a future government can take whatever action it wants to take.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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