The Red Deer Regional Airport has managed to boost revenues during the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to an annual report presented to Red Deer city council Monday by the airport’s executive-director Graham Ingham, 2020 revenues increased by over five per cent from 2019.
Credit was given to fixed-base terminal operator Tucana Aviation for marketing fuelling and servicing at the site. Ingham said other factors were a decision to have no-debt financing and to reduce expenses by reducing some staff and contracting out these services.
Airport authorities have been meeting with the province and low-cost carriers about re-establishing passenger service, which had been available before being pulled by Air Canada in 2017.
Ingham said a market research study by Stone Olafsen showed a moderate demand for the charter or scheduled service concepts, which would include free airport parking and low landing fees.
A letter of support was also received by Swoop and a letter of interest from Enerjet — but both companies stated airport improvements are needed, such as a new larger terminal and a runway widened to 45 metres from 30 metres.
Ingham is searching for grants and third-party partners to raise funds. He believes a “low-cost terminal” could be built for $3 million.
He’s encouraged since resurfacing another aging runway came in under budget at $1.45 million, compared to a pre-pandemic estimate of $2.6 million.
“It’s COVID pricing. People are desperate to work,” said Ingham.
While re-establishing passenger service is one goal, he told council that the other revenue-generating plans are to bring in more cargo, maintenance and servicing business, and to attract anchor tenants for south and north-end land development projects, which could include a convenience store, gas bar and fast-food outlets.
Ingham believes Red Deer Regional Airport can beat Calgary or Edmonton at providing lower lease and fees for these businesses.
Other objectives for 2021 are to compete the refurbishment of apron 3 and the main parking lot, increase operating revenues by another five per cent, promote the airport to at least four other municipal councils in central Alberta and to “support our vision of becoming the aviation gateway and key economic generator for central Alberta,” said Ingham.
Mayor Tara Veer later said, “It’s been a challenging year, but it’s clear the airport has pivoted and is filling a niche in the market.”
Bringing in new businesses to the airport would be a boon for the city and the region, she added. “Any opportunity for us to diversify and to maximize our prime geographical position to generate more activity… would be welcome news.”