The provincial government is spending $9 million for upgrades at the Dease Lake Airport, including repaving and lighting, with the Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine and several mining companies adding $2 million for a package of badly-needed improvements worth $11 million.
“I have been on the board for the past decade and I have witnessed the many challenges inherent with ensuring safe and reliable air service to the B.C. Northwest,” said Brian Young, Stikine Airport Society treasurer, in a media release.
“In collaboration with Tahltan Nation Development Corporation, and with support from the community and other local investors, notably Newcrest Mining, we have helped to secure a future for economic recovery in the area, through these critical infrastructure improvements.”
Safety upgrades to the airport will meet the standards for Transport Canada Civil Aviation Association (TCAA) certification, further enabling medevac services and allowing easier access to the area for the mining sector.
Doctors in Tahltan territory have been working to speed up the medevac process in Dease Lake for more than a decade. In 2020, changes in the way calls from Dease Lake are treated sped up the process by nearly 75 per cent last year.
Still, issues of familiarity and infrastructure at the Dease Lake Airport is a barrier to effective medevac services. Currently, the issue is that pilots not familiar with the airstrip are hesitant to land there and it has no nighttime capabilities.
“Access to timely medical transportation has been a serious and long-standing issue for our remote Tahltan communities, something Tahltan Leadership has been working hard to change,” said Chief Marie Quock, Iskut Band Council, in the release.
“I am so happy that upgrades will now allow for 24- hour landing and take-offs, thereby providing Tahltans with medevac services that the rest of B.C. enjoys.”
The Dease Lake Airport was inspected by the TCAA in 2018. That inspection found several key issues like unserviceable runway lights, runway edge cracking, low brush near the runway and gaps in the perimeter fence, meaning it could not be certified for regular scheduled passenger operations.
Mining and exploration companies also identified problems that limit reliable charter flights. Those include deficient safety standards, limited staff and training, no on-site emergency services or medical evacuation capability, inadequate security and unclear airport management and oversight.
Several other areas of the airport do not meet the requirements of the Basic Aviation Risk Standard program of the Flight Safety Foundation.
Dease Lake is the largest community in B.C.’s far northwest, home to around 500 people. It is the service hub for around 3,500 people living in surrounding communities and around 600 fly-in mining workers at a time.