Stolen parts delay museum expansion
Thieves steal parts from grounded plane at Villeneuve Airport
Wednesday, Aug 27, 2014 06:00 am
Parts stolen from a grounded airplane at Villeneuve Airport last week is spelling trouble for the Alberta Aviation Museum.
The Pacific Western Airlines Boeing 737 was broken into sometime between the night of Saturday, Aug. 23 and the morning of Sunday, Aug. 24.
Thomas Hinderks, executive director of the Alberta Aviation Museum, was called out to the site on Sunday morning, tipped off by a truck driver in the area who noticed something amiss.
Hinderks first noticed the emergency hatch above the plane’s wing – a piece that would cost between $10,000 and $20,000 to replace – was gone.
“I went inside to check the aircraft and discovered a mess,” he said.
Structural, support and electrical components from the plane were taken. RCMP and museum officials suspect the thieves are familiar with aircraft.
There is interior panel damage, said Hinderks, and volunteer crews are now combing through the aircraft to determine the further extent of damage and theft.
All the components that were taken are functional and can be used on other 737s.
It is unlikely the thieves will be able to re-sell the stolen parts in North America because of extensive tracking done on aircraft parts, noted Hinderks.
“Third world countries … some of those aren’t quite so picky,” he said. “There is a world market, but we’ve never seen something like this in Western Canada.”
The 737 has been maintained as a fully functional aircraft since its last commercial flight in 2005.
The plane was flown from City Centre Airport to Villeneuve in November, where it will become a public education display at the museum’s second location due to open next spring.
The opening could be delayed until next summer with recent setbacks – including repairs to the damaged plane. Staff are currently looking to replace the emergency hatch.
“At this point we have to (replace the hatch), it’s a safety and security measure. We’re trying to locate a used door that can either get donated or we can afford,” said Hinderks.
“It’s a busy aircraft in spite of the fact it doesn’t fly.”
Both the City of Edmonton and RCMP use the plane for emergency response training.
“We’ve spent money – that we don’t have – on additional security. If we have to spend five figures and/or more on repairs to the aircraft, (the museum is) going to be delayed significantly,” said Hinderks.
All the planes in the museum’s collection are insured, but making insurance claims may cause the rates to jump “astronomically,” noted Hinderks.
Many of the museum’s volunteers are retired pilots and have adopted the plane as their “unofficial grandchild” taking care of it to keep it serviceable, said Hinderks.
Rick Kuzyk is one of them. He is part of a five-member volunteer crew who is checking for damage and missing items aboard the aircraft.
“We’re not very happy,” he said.
“This is a rare aircraft. This is one of 100 left in North America – one in Vancouver and one here.”
An average of 1,300 people – families, retired pilots alike – would visit the plane when it was open to the public, explained Kuzyk.
“It’s a living, active museum piece,” he said. “It’s not a piece of aluminum sitting in the middle of a field, it’s a piece of history.”