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High hopes after Red Deer airport trade mission

Airport supporters joined Canadian trade mission to Paris Air Show
Red Deer Mayor Ken Johnston (left) and Red Deer County Mayor were among a group representing Red Deer Regional Airport on a trade mission to the Paris Air Show last month. (Photo contributed)

Red Deer Regional Airport supporters are flying high after a recent trade mission to the Paris Air Show.

The province gave the airport a $30-million vote of confidence in April and followed that up with an invitation to join 15 Alberta representatives and 500 from across Canada on a trade mission to the air show, which began June 19 with a four-day event aimed at aviation industry players. More than 2,400 vendors from 50 countries were expected.

Nancy Paish, the airport’s director of business development and communications, said the Red Deer contingent, which included Red Deer Mayor Ken Johnston and Red Deer County Mayor Jim Wood, believes it was mission accomplished.

“Success to us was making sure we got the Red Deer Regional Airport recognized in the aviation community on an international level. Putting the names of City of Red Deer and Red Deer County on the map over there was really important for us.”

It is an important time for the airport that will use the provincial investment for a major expansion. A new road link to the C&E Trail will be built at the north end and up to 200 acres of developable land serviced. It is among the largest swaths of developable airside property in the country.

“This is a huge development for the airport,” said Paish. “It’s going to take some national and international investment into the community.”

Paish said one international aircraft manufacturer told her 50,000 components went into each of its planes.

“When you think of all the different companies that have to manufacture each and every one of those components, that’s a lot of opportunity.”

The Red Deer team found other less-obvious opportunities also exist, such as drone testing, where the less-busy skies of central Alberta are an asset.

Johnston is convinced the regional airport’s time to soar has come.

“The aviation industry is maturing and moving forward so quickly that this is our time now. We have the assets now, and not only the land assets, but the educational assets at Red Deer Poly(technic).”

Despite its global reach, the aviation community is tight-knit and the air show trade mission offered an inside opportunity to send the message that were plenty of aviation players outside Calgary and Edmonton.

“For us to dive into that group and to make our presence in that group, I think was very significant,” he said. “Coming out of there, I couldn’t be happier with the contacts we made and the relationships we formed.”

Part of the mission involved gently addressing misconceptions about Alberta, which for many outsiders conjures up images of oil rigs and combines.

Alberta has the third largest aviation industry among Canada’s provinces and the manufacturing expertise that supports the oilpatch and agriculture and can easily be transferred into the production of high-tech and precision components required by the aviation sector, he said.

Wood also saw the trade mission as an opportunity to show the wider aviation community what the Central Alberta airport has to offer.

“I think the big thing is in this world if you don’t let people know what you have, they’re never going to be able to do business with you,” said Wood.

“There are a lot of aircraft built in the world and there is absolutely no reason that can’t happen at the Red Deer airport.

“I think what is so important is the potential, the potential of what we can be.”

Developing the airport, and the jobs and economic development generated, will be key to central Alberta’s future success, he believes.

Paish did a lot of groundwork ahead of the trade mission, arranging for business contacts. The airport and other aviation and economic development representatives from across the country also had a presence in a Canadian pavilion.

Red Deer Regional Airport — the sole Alberta airport represented — also got an opportunity to pitch itself at an Alberta hour along with representatives from the provincial government, SAIT, Calgary Economic Development, a Wetaskiwin flight school and others.

Airport representatives were also part of a major announcement on the first day of the air show by Innovation, Science and Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne of $350 million to support Canada’s new Initiative for Sustainable Aviation Technology (INSAT) aimed at accelerating the green industrial transformation of the aerospace industry. Canada’s $27 billion aerospace industry supports more than 200,000 jobs.

The province’s invitation came in April, only weeks ahead of the air show and with no funding attached. So airport authority leaders scrambled to reallocate money set aside for other economic development initiatives to cover the $18,000 cost.

Johnston picked up half of his $2,700 air fare and Wood covered his expenses, less about $1,000 he had left in his council travel budget.

Paish said she is now going through her contacts and planning meetings. A number of potential investors have been invited to the Red Deer Regional Air Show, which runs July 29-30 at the airport.

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Paul Cowley

About the Author: Paul Cowley

Paul grew up in Brampton, Ont. and began his journalism career in 1990 at the Alaska Highway News in Fort. St. John, B.C.
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