For the past 20 years, the Prince Rupert Airport has been managed by an independent volunteer-based society — until now.
The City of Prince Rupert has appointed four representatives to the Prince Rupert Airport Authority, three of the new members, including the board chair, are city employees.
Manager of transportation and economic development Paul Vendittelli is replacing Judy Fraser as board chair. The city’s director of operations, Richard Pucci, and the corporate administrator, Rory Mandryk, were also appointed.
What is unique about the new appointments is that this is the first time in 20 years that a city employee has taken position on the Airport Authority board. In 1997, when the federal government transferred its airport assets over to municipalities or private companies, Prince Rupert established the Prince Rupert Airport Society to ensure the airport was run in a business-like manner.
The original constitution for the society reads: “The directors of the society shall be appointed by the city. The city shall appoint as directors individuals who are not elected or appointed officials or employees of the city.”
In the most recent copy of the constitution dated January 13, 2017 the last sentence was removed, and on Friday the city announced its inclusion of city officials to the board.
“These changes were made to improve communication and organizational coherence between the airport, and the ferry and the bus service that bring passengers to the airport,” said Mayor Lee Brain.
“Disconnection in the chain of transportation services has caused multiple logistical issues over the years, including lengthy delays at the airport and a lack of communication between all three providers. We saw these appointments as a way to close this communication gap.”
One of the logistical delays includes the annual $800,000 shortfall from the airport ferry this is subsidized by the tax base. The high cost of flights out of Prince Rupert is another issue, which is driving many travellers to fly from Terrace where tickets are often cheaper.
But the city’s reasons for shaking up the governance of the airport — improved coordination between airport, ferry and bus service and increased accountability for operations — isn’t convincing board member Don Scott who was involved in the initial transition of the airport to the city in 1997.
“The purpose was to ensure the airport is run in a business-like manner,” Scott said. He was not informed of the constitutional changes and feels the Airport Authority should be an independent governance.
“It’s a conflict of interest. The city should be managing the community,” he said.
Scott was board chair from 1997-1999 when he stepped down to run for mayor. With growth in industry, and the prospects for a liquefied natural gas facility on the North Coast, Scott said he joined the board last year to make sure the airport was managed properly.
As the City of Prince Rupert has decided to get more involved in the airport business, Pitt Meadows took the opposite approach in 2016 and delegated the responsibility to an airport advisory committee. All nine members are either airspace experts or business owners, save one non-voting council member.
Whereas, elected officials or employees of the City of Terrace or District of Kitimat are not eligible to be on the Terrace-Kitimat Airport Society board.
In Prince Rupert, the Airport Authority’s purpose is to work with the airport manager, to collect airport fees and seek funding from government organizations, maintain and improve the facility, market and promote and develop long-term plans to improve the airport.
The fourth new board member appointed by the city is Cody Smith, the director of business development at Quickload Logistics. Smith has experience in aircraft maintenance engineering, air-side operations and is accredited as an aeronautical examiner.
The city also points out in its press release that the new board chair Vendittelli, has 14 years of experience in the aviation industry and he helped attract the new airline provider, Misty Fjords, to connect Prince Rupert and Ketchikan, Alaska.
Communications manager for the city, Veronika Stewart, clarified that it is the Airport Society — comprised of the mayor, the city manager and one councillor — who oversee the constitution and the Airport Authority board.
Under the new BC Societies Act, the Airport Society had to update its constitution, which was when the city took the opportunity to permit the appointment of city staff to the board.
“This update was initiated and vetted via the legal representation of the Airport Society, who is responsible for registering the constitution and coordinating the update with the Airport Authority Board,” Stewart said.
Board appointments are for two-year terms and are unpaid. Continuing board members include Don Scott, Gloria Rendell, Kelly Sawchuck and Knut Bjorndal.