Prince George Airport’s International Ambitions

Prince George Airport | BCBusiness
The Prince George Airport has plans to become a cargo hub, if only the planes would come.

Canada’s third-longest runway doesn’t see many of the mega-jets it was built for. Not yet, at least

Five years after the Prince George Airport Authority set a goal for itself as a tech stop for trans-Pacific cargo flights, the cargo bays and aprons near its newly renovated terminal are eerily quiet.

Airport president and CEO John Gibson has made the same pitch to countless logistics companies and air cargo carriers: the airport’s connections to trans-Canada rail lines, the Port of Prince Rupert and its latitude south of established tech stops at Anchorage and Fairbanks could help carriers in the ruthlessly competitive supply chain and logistics business save a few hundred thousand dollars a year.

Gibson believes that the city will one day emerge as a competitor to its Alaskan cargo hub neighbours and eventually a warehousing, distribution and assembly mecca banking on increased trans-Pacific trade. That is, if the planes start landing.

As revenues from forestry declined in the early 2000s, the city and its airport embarked on a $98-million renovation to accommodate the cargo carriers and wide-body Boeing 747s and 767s that regularly fly between the continental U.S. and China. That renovation included expanding the runway by 4,000 feet at a cost of $36 million, which made it the third-longest in Canada, after Vancouver and Calgary.

Perhaps the most confidence-inspiring sign is that the airport is attracting private dollars and tenants, says Harry Backlin, a commercial real estate agent involved with a proposed industrial park adjacent to the airport. Earlier in 2014, the airport and Western Star Ventures completed construction on a facility for transiting cargo from plane to truck, capable of hosting the first generation of cargo flights. And after years of setbacks, a refuelling facility initially planned to be in use by 2011 will come online in the next few months.

Whether or not cargo carriers take to Prince George, proponents of the adjacent industrial park still see a future for the airport supporting the city’s natural population growth. “The city has had a shortage of light industrial land going back at least seven years ago,” says Backlin. “The planning department has a long-range plan as to where light industrial park can be to meet the needs of the community.”