By Meg Olson
With increasing numbers of commercial flights in and out of Point Roberts’ small airport, local pilots are struggling with the impacts.
“We’re essentially running a commercial operation,” said Bob Granley, a Point Roberts resident who has kept his airplanes at the airport for 20 years and, with the half dozen other local pilots based at the airport, maintains it.
“It takes a lot of effort to keep an airport running and safe,” Granley said.
Private owners have primarily used the private airstrip but in 2009 Northwest Sky Ferry began regular service to Point Roberts. “Over the last several years, our clientele started to grow,” said Katie Jansen with San Juan Airlines, which merged with Northwest Sky Ferry last year.
Jansen said since February the company has been offering twice daily scheduled service to Point Roberts, but only flying when their two-seat minimum was met (unless the client chose to charter the plane). The flight leaves from Bellingham airport and costs $109 one-way. Passengers using the service include people doing business on the Point, such as contractors, architects, engineers or doctors, as well as tourists and local residents who cannot transit through Canada. San Juan Airlines also flies to destinations in the San Juan Islands and Victoria, B.C.
While the charter doesn’t fly every scheduled flight, based on demand, Jansen confirmed it makes two flights to the Point many days, and demand is growing. She added other air charter companies also fly to Point Roberts.
Granley said an airport is a valuable community resource and surviving family members of previous owner Robin Lamb had “been gracious enough to allow us to keep using [the property] as an airport.” Since Lamb’s death in 2012, his family has appointed local pilot and airport consultant Romi Singh as manager of the facility. Singh, who travels frequently, was not available for an interview.
Granley said Singh had scheduled a March meeting with airport users to determine how to fund maintenance and to determine the priorities of necessary maintenance. Jansen said San Juan Airlines has an agreement to pay a $5 fee per landing and occasionally helps pay to repair equipment. Maintenance has fallen primarily to Granley and another pilot, he said, and he was unaware of landing fees being collected.
The aircraft parking and holding area is of particular concern, Granley said, as some travelers have been using it for parking. “Access to the actual airstrip has been made really difficult due to mud and ruts,” he said. In periods of high rain, “You can’t get to it without going through a river of mud and you might not get there. We don’t want people parking. Get dropped off and picked up.” He added if commercial flights continue to climb it might be worthwhile to consider creating a paid parking area.
Despite some soft areas and drainage concerns, Granley said, “For the most part we have a very good grass runway.” He added airport users need help from the community in protecting the runway. “Twice this year there have been kids driving on the landing strip and ripping donuts,” he said. “We’ve been letting everyone use the field for years, but respect for private property needs to be there.”