Red Deer Airport is soaring into 2017 on the high hope of soon bringing low-cost flight alternatives to Central Albertans.
Buoyed by looser foreign ownership rules and a recovering economy, Red Deer Airport CEO Graham Ingham is optimistic that low-cost carrier flights could be taking off locally before the end of the year, or early 2018.
“We’re focused on securing new charter and scheduled service,” said Ingham, a former commercial jet pilot and business manager who was hired in October.
So far, Air Canada is operating the only scheduled passenger service from the Red Deer Airport. Flights to and from Calgary are offered three times a week, giving area residents access to 191 global destinations through connector flights.
Ingham said the main advantages of flying out of Red Deer are no long drives along Hwy 2, and no airport parking charges. He believes these factors, along with Central Alberta’s population of 300,000, will make Red Deer airport a natural draw for low-cost carrier service.
Noting that Canada is one of few developed nations without a low-cost airline, Ingham believes this service gap is about to be closed since foreign ownership content for Canadian airlines were recently increased to 49 per cent from a previous cap of 25 per cent. This will allow Canadian companies greater access to the capital and expertise needed to launch a low-cost carrier service.
“We know of two (companies) in Canada that are already working on it,” added Ingham — Calgary’s Enerjet, which was started by one of the founding partners of WestJet, and flies under the name of FlyToo, and Vancouver’s Canadian Jet Lines.
If one of these starts operating from Red Deer Airport, Ingham said there will be a future need to expand the terminal, apron and parking lot to deal with higher passenger volumes.
The airport already completed a 610-metre (2,000 foot) runway expansion in 2016, as well as the construction of a new holding bay to house larger jet aircraft. A grand opening is expected to be held this spring.
While there were fewer charter and scheduled passenger flights last year, due to the slow-down in the oil industry, Ingham said take-offs and landings were up because Montair Aviation moved a second training base to Red Deer Airport. The flight school with 46 students will get an additional 30 students by early next month and be expanded to 200 by the end of the year.
Ingham feels Alberta’s economy has “bottomed out” and will start a gradual recovery this year.