- by Richard Macdonald

In evaluating the need for an airport, some basic principles must be applied.

As a general philosophy we should be mindful of the following fundamentals which should apply:

  • The Airport should be operated safely, efficiently and without being a financial burden to taxpayers.
  • The Airport should contribute to the regional economy in terms of both total economic impact and price competitiveness.
  • Financial and other accountabilities should be clear, complete, and focused at the airport operator level including capital costs.
  • Making the Airport financially self sustaining should not impose undue and/or inequitable financial burden on Airport users.

The National Airports Policy

In its 1994 National Airports Policy (NAP), Transport Canada undertook a process to transfer the 150 airports it operated to local control by airport authorities or local governments.

In 2004, Transport Canada released a study (scanned version begins at p.6)  that examined the financial viability of divested regional and small airports, a decade after the policy was implemented. The study’s key result was hidden in a maze of unlinked facts; however, it revealed that

• 48% of airports are not even able to cover their annual cost of operations and are unable to finance capital at all.

• Even those airports managing a surplus on operations can only finance about a quarter of their capital requirements

. The majority of the airports with deficits are located within a 250 km radius of a National Airports System (NAS) airport - Toronto, London, etc.

From these figures, it is apparent that few, if any, regional and small airports are viable (in the sense of being able to cover their operating and capital costs) at the tenth anniversary of the NAP.

Owen Sound

When it comes to the Owen Sound Airport, I think the City of Owen Sound Council is finally doing very well in the areas of imagination, vision, good planning. They know that it is unsustainable, and that costs will only continue to increase. There is virtually no hope or future for any type of passenger traffic as we are well within 250km of a major national/international airport. There is also no hope for a strong commercial airport business as we have no major industries to speak of. Sustainable airports have two important criteria. They have annual passenger traffic exceeding 100,000. They have heavy traffic volumes mainly in commercial flights.

Supporters of Keeping the Owen Sound Airport

Supporters for keeping the airport open and operated by the city are mainly pilots and hanger owners. Their main arguments for retaining the airport seem to center around four specific arguments: fuel sales; flight schools; military use; and medivacs.

Fuel sales require the airport to purchase the fuel and then sell it at a low profit margin. There are not enough fuel sales or profit to sustain an airport.

Flight schools can be found at most airports. They are just renting space and provide little to the airport except for fuel sales.

Although the supporters constantly mention the military, Owen Sound is not a military air base. They occasionally buy fuel here because they are good neighbours; however they do not rely on us and really don’t need us.

Medivacs are an essential life saving service without a doubt. However, Ornge is not based here, and the average Ontario response time (from request to delivery to the receiving hospital) is about 4 hours. They land at helipads and they land on the highway, There are no examples of a patient being lost due to lack of an airport. Ornge has never asked any for airport to remain open.

If a private enterprise wishes to buy the airport, then let them do it. Edenvale near Barrie seems to survive well enough for its individual owner. If Grey/Bruce counties wish to take over the airport as a regional airport it will still not be viable and will continue to be a tax burden. And don’t ask the province or the feds for help, they gave it all up in 1994.

Note: Most of my comments are based on various reports available to the public.






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