Red Deer Regional Airport is about to take off.
Tuesday’s provincial budget earmarked $30 million for the airport, the biggest influx of cash ever and a vote of confidence in the airport’s potential as a major central Alberta transportation hub.
The money will be used to make key improvements to the airport and the surrounding area to improve access and to fully service hundreds of acres of developable land on the north side.
“It’s very exciting,” said Nancy Paish, airport director of business development and communications. “Just really looking at the future of this airport and the great things for the community that this will bring, this really helps us push this across the finish.”
The provincial investment can only be seen as an endorsement of the airport’s vision of becoming an aviation and transportation centre. With the right infrastructure in place, the airport believes it can develop into a key location for aviation-related servicing, repair and maintenance businesses. It could also serve as a significant distribution centre given its central location and easy access to Highway 2.
To realize the airport’s potential, a number of major steps have already been taken.
Last year, the main runway was widened to 45 metres from 30 metres as part of a $15-million project that allows larger planes, such as 737s to land and positions the airport to attract a low-cost air carrier along the lines of Swoop Airlines, Flair Air or Lynx Air. It would also allow larger planes to land cargo and boost the airport’s attraction to heavy aircraft maintenance businesses and other aviation-related services.
New paving planned for the taxiway and apron will be completed this spring. There are also plans to build a $3-million 12,000-square-foot terminal able to handle nearly 200 passengers at a time. Construction is expected to start this year.
Then-premier Jason Kenney was at the airport a year ago to announce $7.5 million for the project, which was matched with $3.75 million each from City of Red Deer and Red Deer County, which also provide ongoing financial support.
Paish said the airport’s ambitions fits the province’s focus on expanding transportation and logistics opportunities.
“They’re really trying to open up communities to be able to support cargo and other logistics and operators and open up the corridor for transportation.
“It’s really encouraging to see that the province is on board and wants to see this vision come through.”
To position the airport to take full advantage of the opportunities, some additional upgrades are required. A second access point is needed to take some of the pressure off Airport Drive, which is the only way in and out for the airport and the growing community of Springbrook next door.
Some of the provincial cash will be used to build a link to connect the airport and its prime development lands to Township Road 374 to the north. Funding will also be used to service land earmarked for future development on the airport’s north side.
The improvements will also help attract an ultra-low-cost carrier to bring scheduled passenger service back to central Alberta. The terminal is a big part of that drive and while the provincial money is not going towards the terminal, the extra funding frees up other capital to get construction going.