Harbour Air lands new home

Move will add $9.50 surcharge to cost of tickets

Harbour Air plans to fly in and out of a new, permanent downtown location in Vancouver's Convention Centre by the end of the year, based on an agreement in principle between the airline, Vancouver Harbour Flight Centre (VHFC) and the B.C. Pavilion Corporation (Pavco).

The move means travellers will now have to couch up an extra $9.50 surcharge per ticket.

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For the past eight years, the world's largest all-seaplane airline operated from a "temporary" dock located along the seawall at the foot of Thurlow Street. After work on a new, $22-million terminal at the north end of the convention centre was completed in May 2011, Harbour Air refused to relocate its operations, complaining of excessively high rents, additional fees and safety concerns.

(In November 2011, one of Harbour Air's planes moored as a test of the new docks partially sank. The plane, a single-engine Otter, had been loaded with barrels of water up to its departure weight limit of 4,000 kilograms and tied to the dock as part of an engineering review of the new facility.)

The VHFC filed a lawsuit against Harbour Air and Pavco earlier this year, claiming it was losing $250,000 a month because the industry giant wouldn't move in as agreed.

The agreement in principle between the two parties officially resolves all former disputes regarding passenger tariffs, lease fees and lease renewal criteria. The provincial government has also approved Harbour Air's plan to construct an extension to the west side of the flight centre's docks.

"We are glad to have an agreement that addresses our concerns and allows us to provide an uninterrupted first-class experience flying in and out of downtown Vancouver," said Greg McDougall, CEO of Harbour Air Group, in a prepared statement. "We would like to thank everyone and can now refocus on our core business-providing safe, reliable flights to our customers."

Decommissioning of the temporary facility will begin immediately. By early November, Pavco will begin construction on the seawall connection and Harbour Green Park improvements to fully connect the seawall adjacent to the terminal.

"This is a welcome development that supports Pavco's ongoing commitment to find a solution for float plane operators so they can use the new terminal at the Vancouver Convention Centre," said Pavco CEO Dana Hayden in a news release. "We appreciate the patience of the public as the parties have worked hard to find a resolution to their commercial dispute."

The permanent float plane terminal was built and is operated by VHFC, which leases the water lot and terminal space from PavCo on a 50-year operating lease. Harbour Air's has leased the facility for the next 20 years.

Mayor Gregor Robertson and deputy premier Rich Coleman were among those who welcomed the news the dispute has finally ended. The City of Vancouver has approved a short extension to the current operating permit to assist the relocation.

Twitter: @flematic

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