Town of Qualicum Beach terminates air carrier’s lease after ‘security breach’

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The Town of Qualicum Beach has ended a local airline’s airport terminal lease after a security breach during a birthday celebration involving alcohol last month.

The town began to investigate after receiving a complaint about Oceanside Air staff consuming alcohol in the airport on Nov. 11. 

“One and a half hour gathering — not even a party because everybody have one beer and then we go home,” said Pavel Novak, co-owner of the airline, which began regular flights to Vancouver in August.

Novak said the alcohol was only consumed in Oceanside Air’s office and not in public areas. He added people were seen on video leaving the area to deposit empty beverage cans near a counter in front of the office.

The town spoke with members of Oceanside Air and reviewed video footage from the airport, according to Robert Filmer, town councillor, council liaison to the Qualicum Beach Airport and chairman of the Airport Users Committee.

Filmer said video footage showed Oceanside Air staff left their leased area with open alcohol.

“In our airport terminal, just for background, the only space our airlines lease is their office space. Once you come out of the office into where the check-in counters are and into the lobby, that is public space,” Filmer said.

He said the video also shows people going to the parking lot, as well as restricted areas, with alcohol. “Somebody did access the secure side of the airport and that person was consuming alcohol, which was a very large security breach,” he said. The secure side of the airport includes the tarmac and parked aircraft, according to Filmer.

Novak said members of Oceanside Air appeared before council during an in camera meeting and apologized, “it didn’t help, they just cancelled the lease.”

Filmer said all of the town’s leases include a clause allows the tenant or landlord to end the lease within 90 days.

Council issued a formal letter to Oceanside Air on Nov. 16, informing the company of what council saw on the video, according to Filmer. The airline responded with a statement.

“Their statements, as well as their public statements, did conflict with the information presented to us and what was presented in the video footage,” said Filmer.

Council decided not to make a decision during that in camera meeting on Nov. 24, but met again on Dec. 1, according to Filmer. 

It was then presented with options, including removing Oceanside Air from the airport entirely and terminating the airline’s terminal lease, which would still allow them to complete charter flights out of a hangar. Council chose the latter, Filmer said.

The incident was reported to Transport Canada, according to Filmer. He said if the alcohol had only been consumed within the company’s office, it would not have been a concern.

“We didn’t make this decision lightly, it was strictly off of policy, regulations and safety and security of the airport,” Filmer said.

The town said, in a media release, that Oceanside Air was in breach of a number of regulations and conditions of their lease.

“Town council did not make this decision lightly. While the Qualicum Beach Airport is smaller than Vancouver, Victoria, or Nanaimo, all airports are federally regulated and Qualicum Beach must operate under the same Transport Canada guidelines,” the release reads. “Promoting a safe environment in our public buildings and our workplaces is a priority for the Town of Qualicum Beach and bylaws and public health orders are in place to ensure safe spaces.”

Oceanside Air has until March 3, 2022 to vacate the terminal. The company employs 10 people as pilots and ticket agents, according to a statement put out on its social media. It began a petition requesting the town reinstate its terminal lease.

“All our hard work for two years is down in the drain,” said Novak.

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