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  • Vermilion Voice

Vermilion River Flying Club Hosts First Fly-In For Coffee

The Vermilion River Flying Club hosted five aircraft and five drive-in members at their first fly-in for coffee event on August 27. Three of the planes were local from within the County of Vermilion River, one from St. Paul, and one from Viking.

Chair of the Town of Vermilion’s airport advisory committee, Larry Bingham, said events like these are common on weekends throughout the summer just as a destination for someone to go and pursue their hobby of flying, have a coffee and a visit.

“It’s a social occasion and helps flyers brush up on their navigation, etc.,” said Bingham.

Two years ago the flying club took the initiative to begin grant applications for surface improvement to the runway and was thrilled that the airport advisory committee was able to make it on the town’s strategic plan. After communicating required improvements and future opportunities, the committee feels it is an achievement to be on the list as far as capital expenditures. He said the town is planning to earmark money on feasibility for the overlay by completing core drilling to understand what the base is like underneath, and whether it is structurally sound enough to withstand a top coat of pavement.

A previous study adopted by the council recommended that the overlay be completed in 2023 or 2024. The study also showed zoning for residential use and more industrial lots.

“The airport lighting which is an important component is in good condition and won’t require updating, which is a relief,” said Bingham.

Flying Club treasurer, Darcy Balaneski, owns the airport fuel service, Belairus Fuels. Operational since early spring, he said they are doing better than expected so far, and although fuel prices have gone through the roof he hopes once they come down Vermilion will continue to see more air traffic.

Since the flying club started up and since the fuel has been added, he said there has been quite an increase with two or three oilfield survey planes stopping in every week. Pilots appreciate the fuel and being able to access business in town. He said they see a wide variety of people from all over Alberta and Saskatchewan, often as a stopping point from one place to another.

“Vermilion is well situated, and guests have been using the courtesy bikes to ride into town for supper or a ball game. Two planes from Manitoba took advantage of the overnight camping and liked it so much that they stopped again on their way back. Vermilion even had a new resident move in from the Northwest Territories because they have family in Mannville but wanted access to the airport and fuel,” said Balaneski.

The fuel is set up with a self-serve card lock system, meaning those who fly in can access it in the middle of the night without calling someone in as is the case at many other locations. Some flyers travel from Lloydminster, and one came from Cooking Lake in the middle of the night excited they did not have to wait an hour for someone to arrive. Balaneski is excited that this could get more flight schools talking about the Vermilion Airport and its self-serve accessibility. Because it is located at a secured airport, race cars or snowmobiles can also access the fuel by calling Belairus Fuels at 780-853-0926.

“This is one of those ‘if you build it they will come’ things; now there are more talks of people of building hangers in town. As we move forward, I think there is quite a good potential for growth,” said Balaneski.

He also said that pre-COVID, Vermilion would only see five MedEvac flights per year, where now they have seen up to 94 MedEvac flights per year including transfers. As an example, a flight to Calgary takes 45 minutes he said, while an ambulance would take them five hours.

“Twin engine air-crafts will not land here anymore because it is so rough. We are extremely fortunate that Beechcraft King Air MedEvacs still continue to pick up passengers,” said Bingham. “MedEvac are larger aircraft and more susceptible to damage on their landing gear.”

Geoff Hancock, the owner of Hancraft Aeromotive, is a past MedEvac pilot and said the larger turbo-prop airplanes are heavily loaded.

“Loaded with life support systems, paramedics, etc., a heavier airplane requires a smoother surface; they are also faster. They have to continue to roll down the runway faster and further than a small plane,” said Hancock. “We are short of ground ambulances in this province and this is a way to take the pressure off them. There are two MedEvac operators in Alberta and about 13 MedEvac aircraft spread throughout the province, and fortunately they have chosen to use Vermilion for the time being.”

A part of the town’s existing infrastructure, he said the airport is ‘absolutely an essential service in Vermilion,’ they just need to maintain it. Much like the library, hospital, arena or streets, will not increase revenue, but is of value to residents. He said the cost to maintain is considerable, but not wild and that emergency services is just one aspect of use, that the economic benefit and spin-off to the community for having an airport is huge.

“The Vermilion Airport is far from just a recreational spot, it just needs a little facelift right now. For example, people in British Columbia were cut off by a flood, and small aircraft were able to move people and food, etc. during those times. That is unlikely here, but you just don’t know why you might need it,” said Hancock. “We currently have one local operator for agricultural use, but if we ever had a bad outbreak of something, it could be very useful to our local producers to bring in other pilots because outbreaks can sometimes not be controlled fast enough by ground rigs.

Members of the club continue to enjoy working with the town to identify small maintenance projects, and enjoyed watching an entry in this year’s fair parade. They hope to continue having larger annual fly-in events earlier in the year, but may even schedule one post-harvest.

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