Important year for airport ahead

Business plan expected to be finished showing route ahead for airport

Red Deer Airport had a record 75,000 aircraft movements last year and was on track for its best financial year.

Then Air Canada pulled out at the end of October.

Despite that setback, 2018 was a solid year for the airport, said Red Deer Airport executive director Graham Ingham.

“We were on pace for record revenue again until Air Canada pulled the pin. The revenue associated with Air Canada for November and December was probably in the range of $200,000 to $250,000 in revenue.

“So we’re actually doing quite well.”

Revenues came in at $1.16 million, down from $1.2 million a year earlier. Land leases and rents were up, offsetting much of the revenue lost from Air Canada.

The airport authority’s eye remains focused on the prize — the return of scheduled passenger service — which is expected to happen in the next 18 months to two years if all goes well.

Before that happens, the airport must make some multimillion-dollar changes. A bigger terminal is needed, along with runway and apron improvements.

The cost could vary considerably depending on the options chosen, however, between $9 million and $10 million is “in the ballpark,” said Ingham.

“It all depends on ultimately what path we decide to go down. We have a couple of options as far as expanding, and both of them have different costs.”

A business plan is in the works, and it is expected over the summer the airport and its board will have a clearer vision of the path ahead.

Building a new terminal is not realistic, and renovating the existing terminal is unlikely. The best option will likely be modifying an existing building at the airport.

How it would be funded will be a key component of the business plan.

Standing applications for millions in grants are in government hands, but there has been no word yet, and with a new provincial government only weeks in power, it will likely be some time before there is an answer.

Both the City of Red Deer and Red Deer County are partners in the airport and provide operational funding help. Going to them for significant additional financing is not the airport’s first choice.

Borrowing is another option for the airport, which has little long-term debt currently.

“Ultimately, we think we have a strong enough business plan to service the debt ourselves,” Ingham said.

On the revenue side, ambitious plans to market development land, mostly on the north side of the airport, were unveiled at the airport authority’s annual general meeting last week.

A Markham, Ont.-based development company with a background in finding aviation-related investors has been hired.

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