Opinion: Red Deer Airport is top priority

Now that Red Deer College is becoming a university, it’s time to turn our attention to Red Deer Airport.

It too could enrich the community by providing essential services and fulfilling its potential as an economic engine.

Currently, the airport falls well short of expectations.

People living in Lethbridge or Penticton, B.C., for instance, can travel to a larger city to catch a flight, or they can begin their journey at home.

Central Albertans don’t have that option. They can’t tell relatives or business colleagues they’ll pick them up at Red Deer Airport. Guests have to either find their way here by ground transportation, or the host has to make a lengthy trip along the QE2 – something that isn’t always easy, or possible, in inclement weather.

Granted, the origins of Red Deer Airport are different than some other airstrips, but it can’t be allowed to continue to languish. It must be a source of strength, pride and wealth for the region, just as the college has been.

Thursday’s airport annual general meeting is encouraging. Board chairman Ben Antifaiff says the airport has the drawings in hand for a new terminal, which is critical to attracting scheduled commercial air service.

Every effort must be expended to ensure a suitable terminal is built. The region and its residents demand no less.

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The airport should successfully negotiate with carriers such as Air Canada and WestJet, pledging that facilities will promptly be improved in return for a guarantee that scheduled service will be restored to the region.

It would be risky to upgrade facilities with no promise of a return on investment, but there’s no reason a mutually beneficial arrangement can’t be struck.

It would be an agreement that would allow carriers to tap into a new pool of flyers and one that would once again furnish the region with an important service.

The collection of airport improvement fees – an important source of income for every landing strip – would offset the expense of constructing the new terminal.

Airports, including their handling of cargo, are a major industry.

Red Deer’s location between two major Canadian cities leaves one wondering why this opportunity hasn’t been seized. Whether it’s transporting passengers, parcels or equipment for Alberta industry, the airport shouldn’t be the weakling it is today.

The city itself notes Red Deer is just a two-hour drive from 80 per cent of the province’s population. It is an enviable location as the health of the city’s robust hospitality industry attests to.

Airports are the sort of amenity that attracts families and businesses to locate to the area, just as post-secondary schools and other valued infrastructure and institutions do.

The same sort of energy that turned Red Deer College into Red Deer University needs to be applied to getting Red Deer Airport off the ground.

This is a priority that needs to take flight rather than allowing weeds to take root in the ground.

David Marsden is managing editor of the Red Deer Advocate.

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