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Countdown to 2010

It snowed in Vancouver on April Fool’s Day. The spring bulbs and cherry blossoms that we in Lotus Land take such glee in flaunting in front of the rest of Canada are long delayed this year. The hummingbirds are late returning from Mexico and the Arctic birds that overwinter here are late in heading north. It’s as though our entire world is slowing down, not just the economy.


June 2, 2009
By Paul Dixon

Topics

It snowed in Vancouver on April Fool’s Day. The spring bulbs and cherry blossoms that we in Lotus Land take such glee in flaunting in front of the rest of Canada are long delayed this year. The hummingbirds are late returning from Mexico and the Arctic birds that overwinter here are late in heading north. It’s as though our entire world is slowing down, not just the economy.

The newly expanded Vancouver Conference & Exhibition Centre (VCEC) opened to the public on the first Friday in April. Originally championed by the provincial government as being the keystone to the 2010 Olympic bid, it was finally completed many months behind schedule and at almost twice the initial budgeted cost of $495 million. The VCEC is ground zero in the downtown high-security zone for 2010, with the centre as Olympic media headquarters, surrounded by the big downtown hotels that will house the assorted VIPs, dignitaries and officials.

The recent HAC Conference in Vancouver featured a presentation from the 2010 Integrated Security Unit’s lead aviation planner on what the Olympic air security zone would look like. Security for an event of this magnitude can be a no-win situation for those responsible for the planning and implementation. If nothing untoward happens, all the public sees is the effect of endless lineups, traffic disruption and security checks throughout the region. If something nasty does happen, there will be no excuse for allowing it to happen. This is the teeter-totter world that security planners live in. 

The Olympic air security zone will have a profound impact on air traffic in southwestern British Columbia for two months. Other than the police and military, only scheduled flights to and from secured airports will be allowed. The security zone extends from the United States border in the south to beyond Pemberton, north of Whistler. It gets really interesting with the expectation that there will be hundreds of private and chartered planes arriving in Vancouver specifically for the Olympics. Which airports will be available to them and how will their numbers affect traffic control in the security zones? While that poses an interesting dilemma, the true challenge is to the local operators offering

scheduled and non-scheduled service from a variety of points along the B.C. coast and Vancouver Island into Vancouver harbour and/or YVR. 

Restricting air traffic to scheduled flights from secured airports will create headaches at best for travellers and operators alike and just as likely cause major disruptions in service. Operators flying from small coastal communities would be required to stop at an airport outside the restricted zone to clear their passengers and baggage before carrying on to their destination. For the Olympic period, security screening will be operated at Victoria harbour, Pitt Meadows (CYPK) and Langley (CYNJ). This adds time to flights, as well as the cost of extra fuel. For the scheduled carriers operating scheduled service out of Vancouver harbour, both fixed-wing and rotary-wing, there will be airport-level security checks at their harbour facilities. A stumbling block for harbour security is the requirement of vetting passengers in advance as is the case with major airlines. Unlike the vast majority of airline passengers who buy tickets weeks or even months in advance, and thereby submit their personal information for vetting, those flying harbour-to-harbour are more likely to be last-minute flyers, making the requisite security screening difficult if not impossible.

During the HAC presentation, it was revealed that there will be no IFR helicopter operations into Whistler for the Olympics due to the congested airspace. Currently, the airspace up Howe Sound and through Whistler to Pemberton is uncontrolled, but it will be under control for the Olympics. NAV CANADA is reportedly installing an MLAT surveillance for the duration of the Olympics that will not be left in place as an Olympic legacy, though NAV CANADA has declined to comment.

With 80 per cent of the 26,000 hotel rooms in Metro Vancouver and Whistler already booked by VANOC and 70 per cent of event tickets allocated to VIPs, officials, sponsors and others in the Olympic “family,” one has to wonder how much is left for those on the outside. The Olympics have been touted on the basis of creating infrastructure that would benefit communities, create new business opportunities and leave lasting legacies. It may be more than slightly ironic that on the evening that the new convention centre was opened to the pubic, clearly visible across the Vancouver harbour were the infamous fast ferries, that took half a billion dollars to build, proved to be totally inadequate for what they were intended to do and led to the downfall of the provincial government that championed them.


Paul Dixon is a freelance photojournalist living in North Vancouver.


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