The new head of the South Cariboo Regional Airport wants to put the airstrip on the map.
Ross Donahue, who took over the job of running the 108 Mile airport last December, said he and his wife Wendy hope to boost the airport’s profile in the public eye.
He noted there are some airstrips in the Lower Mainland that offer “a $100 hamburger” deal where they fly out to eat at a restaurant and fly back in the same day. Donahue said he’d like to try and attract those types of people to the area and then direct them to some of the other attractions in the South Cariboo.
“We’re going to try to get out there with a little bit more of a social media presence to try and get more people to know about what’s here and what’s available at the airport,” Donahue said. “It’s a pretty spectacular place and when you got a golf course like we have across the road and all the lakes, we’re trying to push it.”
The public campaign will be in addition to his regular manager duties, which include a summer maintenance program to ensure everything is working properly. Donahue, who is running the show through his company Donahue Airfield Services, has a big job ahead.
Opened in 1969, the South Cariboo Regional Airport is a central hub for the region, used for hosting international student pilots, refuelling American planes on their way to Alaska and as a landing and launching pad for emergency responders during crises such as the 2017 wildfires or for doing surveillance. In 2019, some 4,944 planes arrived and departed from the airport; of those, 73 were Medevacs.
While waiting to take over the contract from the previous manager Nick Christianson last September, Donahue sealed some of the cracks in the runway and did some work on the hangar. The airport runway is in need of desperate need of resurfacing, which would include taxiway/apron overlay as well as electrical works.
“As far as the maintenance goes, I enjoy that. It gets a little stressful sometimes with equipment and making sure everything works,” Donahue said. “You’ve got snow and ice and if something breaks there’s always a little stress involved with that but really we haven’t had any issues this winter.”
Donahue is no stranger to operating airfields, having 17-years working at the Prince George airport, first as a snowplough operator before earning his pilot’s license. When he found out that Christianson was planning to retire, he seized the chance to run his own airport.
Compared to Prince George, Ross said all his duties at the 108 airstrip are similar, just on a smaller scale. While things move at a slower pace here, he said he enjoys the more laid-back feel. The greatest learning curve thus far has been dealing with the management and administration side of things, which is mostly new to him.
He said they have gotten to know the community and the job fairly well in the past few months. They enjoy the lifestyle and recently finished refurbishing the apartment suite located in the hangar and made it into their home.
“I love it. I love the area, the people have been great to us. We’re getting a lot of positive comments from the pilots and the people who are tied down here,” Donahue said. “I don’t have a bad thing to say about it, it’s been really good.”
The couple encourages the community to stop in if anyone is curious about what goes on on the other side of the fence. They’d love to help foster a love of aviation in young people and fill the airport with a bunch of small airplanes.
“Stop by, say hello, have a coffee and if you’re interested in looking around we can show you around.”