Airport meets target

Earlier this week, someone settled into a seat on a Swanberg Air Inc. plane and the Red Deer Regional Airport’s 2010 passenger count ticked to 1,000.

Earlier this week, someone settled into a seat on a Swanberg Air Inc. plane and the Red Deer Regional Airport’s 2010 passenger count ticked to 1,000.

That number is significant, said airport manager Cyril Cooper. It means the Red Deer Regional Airport is now eligible to apply for funding under the Airports Capital Assistance Program.

“It’s huge, in terms of infrastructure and improvements for our region,” said Cooper of the federal program. “If we don’t have ACAP funding then it’s difficult for us to be able to keep the airport up to Transport Canada standards.”

The airport at Springbrook has received $2.1 million in ACAP funding in 2008, which was used to improve airfield lighting and signage.

The following year, a further $851,025 was obtained for the purchase of snow removal equipment.

On the airport’s wish list for 2011 is funding for rehabilitation of the smaller of its two runways, said Cooper.

“We certainly need the improvements. Over a long-term period, it won’t last.”

Not only is new and improved infrastructure necessary to meet regulatory requirements, he added, it helps the Red Deer Regional Airport take advantage of opportunities — such as attracting new carriers.

Although the airport must still apply for ACAP funding for 2011, Cooper said it’s a relief to have the requisite passenger numbers well in advance.

“It’s nice to have this in November, as opposed to December.”

Cooper said the airport’s 2010 passenger count was helped by the fact two regional carriers operated there in the first half of the year: Grande Prairie-based Swanberg and Northwestern Air Lease Ltd. of Fort Smith, N.W.T., the latter of which pulled out in July.

Also providing a boost was a Swanberg seat sale that allowed passengers to fly to or from Edmonton or Calgary for $9.99, including all fees and taxes.

“It has been good,” said Swanberg general manager Rich Wilde of the sale.

“We’ve had a noticeable uptick in our passenger movements out of Red Deer.”

Many of those people have been using Swanberg for the first time, he said, expressing optimism that they will remain customers.

“I think it’s sort of created a little bit of a buzz that Swanberg comes in and out of the airport.”

Wilde said his company’s seat sale, which applies to flights up to Dec. 31, continues. But more than half of the 235 seats allotted for the sale have been booked.

“There still are seats remaining, but it’s getting up there.”

Swanberg offers weekday service between Red Deer, and Calgary and Edmonton, a schedule Wilde said will continue in 2011.

Fort McMurray is expected to be added to its list of northern connections, he said, and other routes are possible.

“We’re always looking at new opportunities.”

Swanberg has been flying out of the Red Deer Regional Airport since October 2009.

“I’m pleased with how things have grown in Red Deer,” said Wilde. “It’s going well.”

hrichards@bprda.wpengine.com