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airport

- Richard MacDonald

For a five-year period beginning April 1, 1995, the federal government of Canada devolved itself of 71 local/regional airports. At the time air travel had changed drastically and travel between small airports was no longer cost effective. All air travel was being conducted from major hubs across the country.

The National Airport System (NAS) was soon developed and now comprises 26 airports that link the country from coast to coast and internationally. The NAS includes those airports considered essential to Canada's air transportation system, supporting both domestic prosperity and international competitiveness. The 26 NAS airports serve 94 per cent of all scheduled passenger and cargo traffic in Canada and are the points of origin and destination for almost all interprovincial and international air service in Canada. They are managed by public/private partnerships. The federal government will not fund airports that are not viable (less than 200,000 passengers per year).

Our Owen Sound airport was never part of the national plan or funded under the old plan. It has never taken a global view of its worth. There is no reason at all why it should be publicly owned.

To be viable, a small airport needs three things:
1. Movement of passengers and cargo
2. Revenues equal to or greater than operational and capital costs
3. A forward looking airport management group

Our Billy Bishop Airport has none of these. It has insufficient revenues to cover operating and capital costs – users of actual air services provide virtually no revenue. The airport has no ability to fund capital projects. It also has the potential for mounting future costs as a result of an increasing regulatory burden for emergency services, security, winter maintenance, wildlife control and other changes to the regulatory regime. It definitely has little potential for future revenues or growth as a result of the consolidation of airlines, and traffic diversion resulting from increased fees and taxes on aviation.

For airports that are not viable, the main sources of revenue are often reported as fuel sales and leased space neither of which are enough to support any airport. These are usually cited as positive factors although they contribute little to reducing overall costs. Our airport falls into this category.

Owen Sound councillors continue to hope for growth at our airport, although where that growth will come from is not clear. It certainly will not come from a jet-setter from Toronto Island who thinks a supper in an Owen Sound restaurant would be nice. Revenues have to come from the end users and regular users.

For comparison, I worked in Yellowknife, NWT for many years and was close to the operations of the airport. The Yelllowknife Airport is considered to be an active, busy and truly essential airport that provides for thousands of jobs in all sectors and contributes greatly to the NWT economy. Looking at their latest report from 2016 they had over 575,000 passengers, 200,000 tons of cargo and almost 55,000 air movements. Yet despite a $5 million annual budget, expenses continued to exceed revenues, resulting in a subsidy of some $4 million from NWT taxpayers. The aviation related capital needs are at $26 million and the NWT Government is asking the federal government for an investment of $50 million per year over ten years to address the most significant infrastructure gaps for all of its airports. They continue to look at options but in the end, it will have to be the users that pay these enormous costs.

Being a large viable airport is not in Owen Sound's future. Flight schools are not a reason to have an airport, nor are medivacs. Save the $500,000 in public expenses for 2019. Billy Bishop Airport should be shut down or sold.


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