Investment required in Niagara's Airports

The peninsula's airports need to be managed by Niagara Region if they are to reach the potential outlined in a new feasibility study, says the chairwoman of Niagara District Airport.

Robin Garrett said the Niagara-on-the-Lake airport commission has long been advocating for a regional takeover.

"We need investment in infrastructure as well as the ability to get loans for us to be able to realize what we've outlined in our strategy," she said.

"There's a pent-up demand for hangars and there's also the opportunity to bring in airport maintenance and repair operations, larger hangars for larger planes — all of these opportunities that we have identified in previous studies and just through speaking with investors that have come our way."We definitely need to do that if we want to be able to compete with the growing aviation industry."

Garrett welcomes a new feasibility study and business case focusing on the future of Niagara District and Niagara Central Dorothy Rungeling airports that will be presented to regional councillors at their Thursday committee-of-the-whole meeting by consultant HM Aero Inc.

Garrett hopes it might eventually lead to changes needed to harness the potential Niagara's municipally-owned airports have to offer.

While upgrading facilities won't be cheap, she said they are worth the investment.

"If you look at what airports do for communities, yes, it's an investment in the facility itself, but airports generate multiple times that investment in the economy," she said.

"You have to really think of airports as an investment as opposed to a line item that's costing, because it will return multiple times."Although it can be challenging for smaller airports to generate enough revenue to recover costs, as facilities grow, Garrett said eventually they can become "employment lands, providing jobs for people."

The airports could also have a significant impact on the communities that surround them.

Garrett, who previously worked as chief executive officer of the Tourism Partnership of Niagara, said studies have shown the region's biggest obstacle to growth is access to the region.

"Giving the consumer the options. If we want to grow tourism, for sure we need to be thinking about air and rail, and getting people around the region," she said.

Garrett said it's "critically important" for what is already a well-known international tourist destination.

"Niagara brings in far more international travellers than most destinations. One in three of our travellers is international, compared to one in 10 provincewide. We punch higher with our weight because we are able to bring in new dollars into the economy."

But other top Canadian tourist destinations, she noted, "all have airports within about 25 kilometres."

Garrett said Niagara District Airport can accommodate 72-seat planes on its 5,000-foot runway.

"That's what our sweet spot is. Even without an extension to our runway we have a lot of opportunity for growth. We've estimated that we could have about seven times the number of passengers then we currently have coming through the airport if we were able to maximize the number of flights. There's lots and lots of growth opportunity with the footprint that we currently have."

The challenge, she said, is to develop the land to accommodate scheduled service providers.

"That's our challenge. We need to be able to have that."

There are commuter flight services offered in Niagara, such as Fly GTA's 12-minute trips to Toronto, but that service can be expanded, too, she said.

905-225-1629 | @abenner1

905-225-1629 | @abenner1

Allan Benner
by Allan Benner
Allan Benner is a reporter with the St. Catharines Standard.