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Expanded runway at the Ponoka Airport broadens range of services

Ponoka Flying Club members voluntarily did the base work for the expanded runway at the Ponoka Airport. The project was completed this past fall. (Photo submitted)

It has been — and continues to be — busy at the Ponoka Airport with its expanded runway that was completed last fall.

“We bought the airport in the fall of 2020,” said Neil McLaren, president of the Ponoka Flying Club, which owns and operates the airport.

“We went from being a club with our pilot members to being the owners of an airport.”

The status of ownership came with the responsibilities of taking care of the site, and that included the lengthening of the runway, said McLaren.

“We get a lot of medical transfer flights here. They are pretty big aircraft, and they can operate comfortably on 3,000 foot runways — when the weather is perfect,” he explained.

“But when it starts to get a bit icy, or if there is low visibility — an experienced pilot would have no problem, but during COVID, the contractor was taking on a lot of newer pilots, and they just weren’t comfortable landing on the runway.

“So they stopped landing here last winter — period.”

To clear the way for those flights to resume, the club added an extra 300 feet to the north end of the runway, with another 500 feet added to the south end.

“When I became president, we committed that if we could get the budget for it, we would get it done,” he said.

Work commenced last July and was completed in the early fall, and the medical flights have resumed as usual.

“We get about 100 medical flights per year,” he said.

“One of the problems when they stopped was that they were landing in other airports and sending ambulances from Ponoka to go and pick them up. So it was taking ambulances out of town. If they can land at our airport, the ambulance can pick them up here and take them to the hospital.

“It’s a big help for the community that we were able to get this done,” he said, adding that the club did receive support from Ponoka County and they have an operating grant from the Town of Ponoka as well.

“Honestly, I appreciate the help from both the county and the town — it’s nice that we can work together with them. We do enjoy their support.”

McLaren pointed out that club members voluntarily did all the base work for the runway extensions as well.

“It’s how we were also able to do it. We wouldn’t have been able to afford it any other way because it would have been so expensive.”

Looking forward, the extensions didn’t just re-open the doors to medical flights.

McLaren said it can broaden services in other ways, too, from enabling more flights for various business projects in the area to helping bring in competitors arriving from the United States to take part in the Ponoka Stampede, to helping STARS Air Ambulance which also utilizes the airport.

There are about 50 members of the Ponoka Flying Club.

McLaren used to fly back and forth to Vernon, B.C. regularly. The convenience of it just can’t be beaten either, he added, pointing out that recently, he flew to Prince Albert for business, spent a couple of hours there, and headed home.

“We were home by mid-afternoon — there was nothing to it,” he said with a laugh.

“It was just a few hours of the day. So it changes your life as far as being able to go and do things easily.”

He recalled when he decided to get his pilot’s license, he had just retired so he had more time to pursue what had been a goal for some time.

“We had our place in B.C. and I could see the flights going in and out of the airport in Vernon. One day, I said to my wife that I had always wanted to get my pilot’s license. And she said, ‘Why don’t you?’ It’s been rewarding for sure.”

Tom Rodwell, another member of the club, agreed.

He said he tries to take his plane up at least once every two weeks.

“It’s kind of in my blood from a few years back,” he said, referring to a long-held interest he has had in aviation.

“I love taking friends for flights, too. It’s more of a hobby than anything else,” he said, adding that the club does have an open-door policy for those who are interested in learning more.

“If people want to come out, have a look or a talk, they are more than welcome.”

For more information, find the Ponoka Flying Club on Facebook.

(Photo submitted)

Mark Weber

About the Author: Mark Weber

I've been a part of the Black Press Media family for about a dozen years now, with stints at the Red Deer Express, the Stettler Independent, and now the Lacombe Express.
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