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Future land use, leases at Langley Airport to be reviewed

No question airport will stay, but council to consider other issues
A light plane taking off at Langley Regional Airport on Monday, Oct. 24. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance Times)

Langley Township will take a look at the future and management of the local airport, but councillors were at pains to say they will keep it open and operational this week.

At a council process committee meeting on Monday, Oct. 23, the council looked at a memo from staff about the future of leases at the airport, which suggested changing the way new leases charge tenants.

This is in the face of a $7.5 million bill for a runway resurfacing that has to happen in the near future.

“The airport breaks even at the moment,” noted Councillor Michael Pratt. But there are major costs like the runway resurfacing that are coming up.

He also pointed to an effect the airport has on nearby development – areas around it can’t build higher than six stories. That includes the Willowbrook area, where the Township is currently looking at revamping the community plan.

Despite challenges, no one on council had any appetite for shutting down the airport.

“No one I know is considering closing the airport,” said Mayor Eric Woodward, noting he learned to fly there as a teenager.

“I want to confirm for everyone we’re trying to find solutions, and that’s it, that’s all we’re trying to do,” the mayor said.

Coun. Kim Richter noted the role of the airport in emergency air support, as Langley Regional was used to ship supplies to communities isolated by the floods caused by the atmospheric rivers two years ago.

The memo from staff noted that the aiport’s lease rates have not changed in decades, and are not based on the market value of the properties and their buildings.

The airport has a history going back to before the Second World War, when it was a handful of makeshift buildings and some mowed grass runways on the edge of what was then the community of Langley Prairie.

The memo notes that as the airport developed, land was leased to tenants on a land lot basis.

“Essentially, the airport rented the land, and the tenant provided the required structures on the leased land,” said the memo.

The intention was that in the long run, the airport would take ownership of the structures, and then lease them for further terms to the existing tenants, or to new tenants.

Relatively long leases were needed so the tenants could ensure they would get the benefit of building structures, including offices and hangars, on land they didn’t own.

The memo suggested that the tenants have now realized the value of the buildings, and it is time to potentially move to a “land and building lease” model, which would lease the sites at market rates – likely higher than the rates based on bare land.

The memo also notes that a number of the industrial tenants in the Westside project, which runs along the north border of the airport by 56th Avenue, are coming to the end of their leases int he next few years.

“As the lease model is changed, current tenants may choose to continue with the new building-land lease model or replacement tenants could be obtained,” the memo said.

In addition to the leases, the memo and an associated report noted that pilots leasing small hangars are paying $150 a month, including costs and taxes. That’s compared to around $450 paid by recreational pilots at other local airports.

Many of the firms at the airport are helicopter-related, with the largest cluster of helicopter companies at one airport in Canada, including charter companies and maintenance firms.

There are urrently 26 commercial leases and 20 general aviation leases, mostly to recreational flyers.

There are 350 aircraft, mostly small recreational planes, kept at the airport.

Although the airport is owned by the Township, the land itself was transfered from the federal government in 1967, and if the Township ceases to operate the airport, the land will be returned to the federal government.

The council voted to have more discussion, and at the suggestion of Coun. Barb Martens, to ensure that tenants and airport users will be involved in consultation.

The memo that sparked the discussion will come back with more info from staff and discussions with tenants and pilots in the future.

Matthew Claxton

About the Author: Matthew Claxton

Raised in Langley, as a journalist today I focus on local politics, crime and homelessness.
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