Runway success

Mission accomplished — with more than a week to spare.

Operator Dale Voight clears a runway with a new combination brusher and blower at the Red Deer Regional Airport Tuesday.

Mission accomplished — with more than a week to spare.

The Red Deer Regional Airport’s passenger count ticked past 1,000 on Monday, making the facility eligible for Airports Capital Assistance Program funding next year.

“We crossed over last night,” said airport CEO Liam O’Connell on Tuesday, adding he was confident the mark would be reached but still breathed a sigh of relief.

At the end of November, 884 commercial passengers had flown in or out of the Central Alberta airport. That prompted the Airport Authority to arrange for Swanberg Air to slash its December fares for flights to and from Calgary, Swift Current and Regina by 50 per cent.

The Airport Authority and Swanberg split the cost of the discount.

O’Connell thinks the fare incentive helped raise public awareness about passenger service available at the airport. In addition to Swanberg’s eastern routes, northbound flights have also seen increased passenger counts.

The Red Deer Regional Airport has received ACAP funding the past two years: $851,025 in 2009 for the purchase of a snowblower, plow truck and sweeper, and $2.1 million in 2008 for airfield lighting, signage and landing aids.

The Airport Authority has already applied for 2010 ACAP funds. It’s seeking about $4 million for asphalt overlays on the runways, taxiways and the main apron, plus related work; $1 million for a lighting upgrade to address low-visibility situations; and $500,000 for expansion of the maintenance shop for equipment storage.

The federal government must approve another round of ACAP funding before 2010 grants can be issued, said O’Connell. This will likely be addressed in the spring budget.

If the program is renewed, he’s confident the Red Deer Regional Airport will easily reach the 1,000-passenger threshold in future years. In addition to the likelihood of an improved economy, next year should produce more local flights.

Swanberg started flying out of the Red Deer Regional Airport in mid-October, when it introduced service to Calgary, Edmonton and Grande Prairie. In November, it added flights through to Swift Current and Regina, with Estevan, Sask. recently joining the list.

Also flying out of the Red Deer Regional Airport is Northwestern Air Lease Ltd., which flies to and from Fort McMurray.

Northwestern indicated in September that it wants to add flights from Red Deer to Kelowna and Abbotsford, B.C., next spring.

Gordon Bush, Northwestern’s general manager, said Tuesday that his company needs technical route data from Nav Canada before it can proceed.

“We’re looking at spring 2010, but that covers a multitude of months. I really can’t be more specific.”

Bush added that it’s also too early to comment on fares or schedules.

“Whether we are going to go to Abbotsford or not is still a question mark,” he said, explaining that this second stop might be added after the Kelowna route is established.

Passenger counts aboard Northwestern planes flying to and from Fort McMurray have diminished with the economic downturn, said Bush.

“It’s not disastrous, but it’s not as good as it was. I think we’ve lost about 40 per cent of our passenger loads.”

But, he added, the regional airline did have good demand for charter services in Alberta this year.

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