Red Deer Regional Airport CEO Graham Ingham, left, with Tony Hunley and Jim Freake of Tucana Aviation. The airport has announced an agreement with the company to improve ground support services at the facility. (Photo contributed)

Red Deer airport getting better support services

Red Deer Regional Airport has a new partner to operate its terminal and provide co-ordinated ground support services for planes, aircraft staff and passengers.

Tucana Aviation, one of the companies already selling fuel at the airport, will soon offer maintenance, catering, transportation and accommodation bookings that will turn the terminal into what is known as a full-service fixed-based operator.

The terminal is also getting a $115,000 facelift.

The improvements come on the heels of an announcement that the facility will soon become a controlled airport, with an operating control tower staffed by NAV CANADA using internal air traffic control staff.

“With this relationship, they’re taking over the terminal, and the main apron, and providing all services exclusively for the airport on a five-year contract,” airport CEO Graham Ingham said Monday of the arrangement with Tucana Aviation.

Currently, the airport does not offer scheduled passenger service, but more services will boost charter traffic and help the airport grow, he said.

“There’s still quite a bit of charter service running around in Alberta, and we want to partner with somebody who has a lot of experience and connection in that business,” said Ingham.

“And at the same time, we want to provide a better service for people who are using this airport.”

Tucana operations manager Jim Freake said airports in Lethbridge, Medicine Hat and Grande Prairie all have full-service fixed-based operators.

“I believe people fly over our airport because there’s no services. Why would you stop if there are no services for your plane?” Freake asked.

He said when John Fogerty played in Red Deer recently, his plane had to stop in Lethbridge to clear customs.

“He couldn’t fly straight to Red Deer. There’s no services here. There’s no customs.

“Central Alberta is big enough. We need these kinds of services. We’re really hoping to bring in charters, to bring in business, with hopes of an airline.

“The province just put $10 million into our runway to get 737s here. Now we’ve got to bring the traffic,” Freake said.

He said growth won’t happen overnight, but it all starts with having a full-service fixed-based operator. The airport, he added, is working to bring in customs services down the road.

Tucana Aviation will begin offering its new services Dec. 1.

Ingham said the terminal renovation project, which includes a private waiting area for pilots, got underway a few days ago. The grand opening is scheduled for Nov. 21.

“We’re in the process of refurbishing the whole terminal. It’s going to be bright. It’s going to be a completely different look and feel,” Ingham said.

“The floors and the ceiling date back to 1976. It’s time.”

Last week, NAV CANADA announced Red Deer airport will become a controlled airport. As an uncontrolled airport, Red Deer has instead had a flight services station providing advisory services.

“It may or may not involve a new tower,” said Ingham. “They’re not entirely sure yet. They anticipate this process taking about 22 months to switch it over.”

Ingham said as the fourth busiest airport in Alberta, there are about 80,000 takeoffs and landings per year in Red Deer.

“The airport is going to become safer as a result of becoming a controlled airport and it’s also going to allow the airport to further grow. We could be looking at 100,000 to 120,000 movements per year.”

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