According to a Towns for Tomorrow grant application (taken from the Council agenda for November 17, 2008) for $375,000, the City of Castlegar is planning on spending funds from various sources of about $1,000,000 to upgrade the airport to permit nighttime flights to take off and land at Castlegar Airport. $100,000 of airport reserves will be used from the City’s coffers, the rest coming from various government and other organizations.

The concept is that six light beacons would be placed on hills in the Castlegar Valley around the airport, allowing pilots to orient themselves visually – when they are within the lights and at a given altitude, they are effectively safe. Simple enough, and it allows for planes with all types of navigation equipment to utilize the system.

A Strategic Priority?

The project has been identified as a strategic priority for the City since at least November 2007 (pdf from City Website Рoriginal link here) Рwhich incidentally was after the developer connected with the Castlegar Gaming Center proposal was given the go ahead.

[ad#200-left]The premise of the application is that emergency medical flights will have greater access to Castlegar after hours – assuming that weather conditions are acceptable. According to the grant application, some 18% of departing flights are canceled due to darkness. I find this hard to believe. If there were five flights departing a day, every day, this would mean that one of those flights is canceled every day of the year due to darkness. Perhaps the statistic should read that 18% of flights scheduled to leave after 4pm are canceled, or something to that effect. However, the weather conditions, particularly in winter are a much more significant reason for delays and cancellations to and from this airport. Also of concern is that the figures given in the grant application are different from those quoted by the CAO in a Provincial Finance meeting held in Nelson in September.

One of my particular concerns with this application is the invisible link to the approved Gaming Center which is to be located right next to the airport, (and possibly with a direct connection between the buildings). Now wouldn’t it be convenient for gambling business if there was actually something going on at the airport at night – say people waiting for flights that are now able to land and take off because there was now $1,000,000 worth of lights? It appears that the developer for the Casino Gaming Center has not started work on construction before winter as hoped – perhaps they are waiting for the green light, so to speak?

The Problem of Peak Oil

Some might say that I am arguing against improved medical services and increased tourism and business travel to the City and region. Far from it. I believe that air travel is a short term luxury made possible by cheap, plentiful oil reserves. This situation is not going to remain for ever. In fact, it is likely that the world is reaching its peak production of oil, (measured in millions of barrels per day), but use of oil products is still increasing. At some point soon the demand for oil will outstrip the potential to extract it – and by the way even the oil companies are saying that the remaining reserves are limited.

the Jetsons on my desk
Considering this information of limited remaining oil reserves and still increasing oil consumption we have to consider alternatives for powering our cars, trains and planes. As I write this, there is no alternative technology or fuel comparable to oil for powering aircraft. The future as shown by the Jetsons cartoon – with flying cars and robots is only possible with cheap, plentiful, portable energy. It is interesting to note that at the same Provincial Finance meeting, Douglas Hurst from Selkirk Power Ltd spoke of Peak Oil, power privatization and the implications on electricity generation and coal extraction. Much talk ensued about the importance of electricity to replace waning oil supplies – unfortunately, as I write this, there are no plans or prototypes for powering passenger planes by electricity. Maybe a plugin hybrid? – It would still need gas, and lots of batteries – if it were at all possible.

The Problem of Airline Travel

The grant application talks of extending the benefits from the beacons to commercial passenger flights after a proving period with the emergency services. Unfortunately, even with the beacons, travel to Castlegar may be limited by outside constraints. Already companies around the world (like Teck, which has operations in Trail, just down the road from Castlegar) are doing more teleconferences, rather than flying for meetings. Worldwide, airlines are seeing a reduction in the passenger volumes, and it is likely in my mind that air travel to Castlegar will be reduced by Air Canada to a couple of flights a day within a few years. Here’s a story about British Airways – with these statistics how much longer would a company extend services to small rural areas.

Gulfnews: British Airways first-half profits dive 92% but shares take off

BA’s chief executive, said the group had achieved a “good performance given the incredibly difficult trading conditions amid the surge in fuel costs and falling traffic volumes”.

“The six-month period will be remembered as one of the bleakest on record,” said Walsh.

Pre-tax profits fell 91.6 per cent in the six months to the end of September from record levels a year ago while premium traffic fell 9.2 per cent year-on-year. However, the results were better than feared by the market…

The airline is planning to reduce capacity in the next summer season from April to October by about 1 per cent following cuts of 3 per cent this winter.


Speak to the Castlegar Council if you are concerned about this proposed use of funds, and see what plans they have to hold Castlegar together through Peak Oil?

If the City is looking for ways to spend a million dollars, why not run a competition? I can think of a number of worthy projects that would contribute to the long-term sustainability of the City, with or without cheap oil.

Click to download pdf of the Airport Beacons Grant Application

I really have no idea whether the beacons and the gaming center are in any way connected – there just seems to be a coincidental synergy between these two projects succeeding – and who knows, it may be just that, a coincidence. If you have any questions about what I’ve written here, leave them as a comment, or use the contact form – I will get back to you as soon as possible.

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Published by Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada.

9 replies on “Castlegar Airport Beacons”

  1. Are you a conspirocy theorist? Has anyone else in Casltegar found this to be as much of a coincidence as you? From what WC says above, you wouldn’t want to fly into Castlegar at night anyway – didn’t you once say that it was the second steepest descent for a commercial airport in North America?

  2. umm….I think someone forgot to take their meds today…

    Browsing through your site, I’m interested to know if you practice what you self righteously preach. How do you get to work and shopping? Do you grow all all of your own food? Refuse to use airplanes? Live in high density housing? Just curious….

  3. I see nothing “self righteous” in what I’m saying on this website. Theses are opinions, not intended to prove my ideals better or worse than others. However, the residents of the City of Castlegar deserve more information about the realities of how the decline of the oil economy is going to impact them. I am a professional engineer involved in many sustainability projects – I criticize this project because I live in the community and only see a short term useful life of these beacons.

    I live within walking distance to shops and public transport – and up until last year, our family only had one car. We live on almost an acre of viable land for agriculture and do grow much of our own food, including tree fruits, vegetables, and grains including wheat, oats and amaranth – we eat, process or preserve all of this food ourselves. The food currently stored in our cold room will provide about a third of our fruit and vegetable needs for the winter months. Since moving into this house we have more than doubled the area of garden used for growing food.

    I do now drive to work, and chose my current job based on professional development and the opportunity to do some amazing work in a community that faces many sustainability issues. However, that community is about 600 meters higher than where I currently live, with a shorter growing season, so we have made the decision to stay in a place – the commute is along highways with minimal traffic. Part of the choice living in the mountains (in a community of 7,500 people) is that there are distances between rural centers – if you do need to travel there are few choices – that’s why I publicly advocate a revival of the rail network in this part of the world, currently only used to transport various (likely toxic) substances from a pulp mill in Castlegar and Zinc Smelter in Trail.

    Do I practice what I preach? Depends on what you mean. Many things that I write are equally a challenge to me and my family as much as for my readers…
    – Are my family and the organizations I work with aiming towards a level of community self reliance currently not commonly practiced? – yes.
    – Am I taking advantage of the oil economy to achieve some of these things? – yes.

    I’m not criticizing those who choose air travel, (I haven’t been on a plane in two years – not that it really matters – but you asked), but an acknowledgment that this behavior is likely to not be possible without oil would be nice. Oil, if you don’t know, is going to run out one day – and you’d need an awfully long power cord to run an airplane on electricity using today’s technology.

    The world and particularly those of us in North America that are so comfortable in our convenient, oil driven culture, face massive challenges in the years ahead. Spending money on infrastructure that has no long term viability makes no sense. If a technology was developed that clearly showed that commercial air travel was going to be possible without reliance on oil – I would support this project. But until that day, such a plane is a pipe dream and this project squanders a million dollars that could be better spent.

    You were curious…

  4. Alex –
    Why would anyone take the time and effort to produce this blog and not at least try to practice what he preaches as far as circumstances allow?

    At the very least he has caused me to question many things that we do in our lives that impact others.

    Mike is a realist and is doing his best to give us a wake-up call.

    I, for one, appreciate his efforts.

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