File photo by ADVOCATE staff Red Deer Airport is asking for a total of $900,000 in operating funds, a request to be split between the city and Red Deer County. Additional capital funding is also requested.

Red Deer city council approves airport operating funds amid concerns they are too high

But request for $350,000 for airport capital projects was tabled

Red Deer Regional Airport will receive a lofty increase in operating funding from the City of Red Deer, totalling $450,000 — as long as it’s matched by Red Deer County.

But councillors grounded the airport’s additional request for $350,000 in one-time capital funding to pay for enhancements that could entice new maintenance, repair or overhaul businesses to the airport.

Council unanimously decided to push discussions about this to the second quarter of 2020 to allow council to receive and review the airport’s strategic plan, as well as the progress, potential and recommendations of the Intermunicipal Collaboration Framework discussions with Red Deer County.

The high dollar amounts requested this year by the airport drew concerned comments from councillors who questioned what spurred such a large increase.

Coun. Buck Buchanan expressed frustration that the city is repeatedly being asked to provide more annual operating funds to the airport, while its management keeps promising to look for ways to become more sustainable.

“I like the words ‘cautious optimism’ and I especially like ‘sustainable,’” said Buchanan, who hopes to see some results on this front soon.

The airport is in the midst of a North America-wide marketing campaign to try to attract related businesses to locating there. Its administrator is also talking with ultra-low cost carriers about restarting some passenger service, possibly as early as this summer.

City council held a close-door meeting on Thursday to find out the state of negotiations between the airport and various businesses. Councillors then unanimously approved the city’s half of the $900,000 of matching operating funding the airport is seeking from the city and the county.

However, council members expressed their dismay about the big increase being requested. Besides the $255,000 that was already approved for the airport, city council was asked to top it up with an additional $170,000. The same request is also going to Red Deer County.

Planning services director Tara Lodewyk said the additional expenditures are linked to a jump in annual airplane movements. They have reached 80,000 from 30,000 after a new flight school started up.

So far, the small training planes are not paying landing fees, she said, but the airport is reviewing this policy.

City manager Allan Seabrooke told council that the regional airport is integral in bringing new business investment to the area.

But Coun. Tanya Handley cautioned that such large requests are not sustainable in the long-run and recommended the airport board take another “stringent” look at its operating costs.

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