Gulf Island Seaplanes takes over connecting Silva Bay to YVR

Derek Kilbourn

Sounder News

Tuesday, June 17 2014

The seaplane route connecting Gabriola’s Silva Bay to the Vancouver International Airport (YVR) is under new ownership as Sean Evans has bought the route from Tofino Air and launched Gulf Island Seaplanes.

“I love this industry, I love the island. I started with Tofino Air ten years ago next month. I worked all their routes, but with Gabriola, the people, the route, I knew this is the place. After flying out of here for years, the clientele have been more friends as we go back and forth. We decided to do it.”

Evans said he and his wife Alison have talked about it for years, and over those same years he and the owner of Tofino Air discussed it. The chance finally came up about a year ago and Evans started the changeover.

He acknowledged that part of the benefit of the business is providing an alternate route to the Lower Mainland that doesn’t require over four hours of ferry travel time.

But part of the reason they chose Gabriola is because there is a loyal group of passengers who fly the route.

“What I like about here, on Gabriola, is we wanted to try and work out of this base [Silva Bay] and provide a service for the community here.

“We’re fully committed to Gabriola now. Before, under the previous umbrella, we had to share priorities with the other routes, asking what the most important flight was each day.

“Now Gabriola is the only flight. Gabriola it is.

“Alison and myself, we’ve got four kids and we’re not trying to make a huge company, we want to keep this route going. It has a place in my heart, I love the people here and love the people I work for here. We want to provide a service that is friendly and safe. And if you come down to the plane on Monday, you’re not just a number, you’re a person we know.

“I have customers where I am loading the bags and I know by the suitcase who’s flying with us that day.”

So far, the focus is on making sure the main route connecting Gabriola and YVR is stable. They will also continue to do stopovers at DeCourcy Island when there are customers needing to get to Pirate’s Cove. There are no plans yet to change the route to go in to downtown Vancouver.

Surveys are going to be done at some point to collect more feedback from customers, but there are still more customers more interested in connecting to the international airport rather than the downtown core.

Evans explained that currently, a person can leave Gabriola on the 7:20 a.m. seaplane to the YVR seaplane docks, and by using the bus and Canada Line, be downtown by 8:30 a.m.

“Someone has already commented on our Facebook page comparing us to taking the ferry. There is no comparison, especially when you consider how much your time is worth.”

Graeme Ireland, who has come over from Tofino Air to work for Evans, said there has been a shift in the customer base in the past six years.

“There have been more visitors, on top of the regulars, than I’ve ever seen before in my time here. People coming over to see their family and friends are starting to look at the ferry costs and are calling us to get here instead. BC Ferries are doing us a favour there. A lot of people are turning away from BC Ferries because of the price and convenience [of flying].”

Evans added that a person can also typically rent a vehicle from the international airport for $20 a day, making it unnecessary to ferry a vehicle to the mainland.