Vanderhoof pilot says its time airport stepped up its security to prevent fuel theft

Fuel stolen from aircraft

Private aircraft owner Paul Collard is tired of thieves stealing fuel from the floatplane he has parked along the tarmac at Vanderhoof Airport.

And he’s not alone. It’s been a recurring problem for years for Collard and his fellow members in the Vanderhoof Flying Club and he wants the District of Vanderhoof do something about it.

Collard wants the district, which owns and operates the airport, to provide a secure locked compound for airplane owners so they can continue going for a cruise up in the wild blue yonder without the worry of having their fuel tank drained the night before.

“We did get considerable fuel theft over the winter,” said Collard. “They siphoned my plane dry and at least three others that I know of that were parked at the airport, some on the tarmac, some on the grass.”

The cost of aviation fuel is $2.66 per litre, almost a dollar more than conventional gasoline. Because of its lead content, the fuel is not made for most vehicles and it will damage catalytic converters. Collard suspects the stolen fuel is being used for snowmobiles and quads.

The fuel station where owners fill up is controlled by a card lock but Collard said there are no locks on aircraft fuel tanks, so fuel thieves can easily steal the fuel.

“The big point is the airport has no security, there’s no fence, no gate, 24/7, he said. “We’ve had sporadic events before, but this winter, significant amounts of gas were stolen.”

Collard said some of the private hangers at the airport maintain video surveillance but he said that’s basically useless in identifying a thief who can easily hide their identity by wearing a hoodie and glasses.

“It’s a big area and it’s dark and if you go in there and start siphoning nobody can see you,” Collard said.

The District of Vanderhoof received a donation last year of rolls of chain-link fence which had been used to mark the perimeter of a work camp on airport land that was used during construction of the now-completed Coastal GasLink pipeline project and that fencing material has been earmarked for the airport.

The district has budgeted $32,000 to have a 590-metre fence installed this year with gates at the entrances to two roads to create a physical barrier that divides airport operations from the public-access area of the airport.

Collard wants the gates to be secure at all times, but accessible at all hours of the day to stakeholders, including BCEHS first responders who conduct air ambulance flights. He says Vanderhoof receives an average 50 medevac flights annually.

Collard suggested the airport consider a phone app system that controls gate access, like those that currently in use at storage locker facilities in Prince George. The gate is operated when a client inputs the correct code.

Vanderhoof mayor Kevin Moutray says the district maintains the asphalt runways at the airport and the roads that lead to the airport but says it is not their responsibility to provide a secure area for aircraft storage. There are no user fees charged to airport users and if the flying club wants a secure compound Moutray said a system of charging fees for that service would have to be initiated.

“We have got in the budget putting some fencing in but locks only keep honest people out and if people want to get around it they will,’ said Moutray. “We just can’t provide a secure place on the input we have.

“The flying club does produce its own revenue, they have fuel sales and other things, so if they want to look at providing that themselves maybe that’s something we could enter into discussion as well.”

Moutray said the district has invested millions into airport upgrades over the years, including a new lighting system for the runways. With user fees not being collected he doesn’t anticipate the level of service increasing. He said no small airport he knows of has a secure aircraft storage compound.

More BC News