Airport watch: Status quo for now, but perhaps not for long
Published Wednesday, June 18, 2014 4:46PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, June 18, 2014 7:06PM EDT
Ambitious growth plans proposed earlier this year for Region of Waterloo International Airport are on hold.
Given four options to guide the airport through the next few years, regional councillors voted Tuesday for the smallest-scale of the four – essentially a “status quo” option.
But that didn’t mean they were happy with the status quo of the airport, which has lost Bearskin Airlines service to Ottawa since first floating plans for ‘aggressive’ growth that could have seen the airport expanded to provide relief to Pearson International Airport in Toronto.
Airport officials were told to develop a plan to increase business at the airport, which taxpayers currently subsidize to the tune of approximately $6 million per year.
At Coun. Sean Strickland’s urging, councillors went one step further and agreed to look at hiring a “business professional” to pitch the airport to new clients.
“We need to take the challenges we have at the airport quite seriously,” Strickland said on Wednesday.
“We need some urgency. We need to provide some resources to help us grow this business.”
Hamilton International Airport breaks even each year, Strickland said, while London International airport returns a profit each year.
Airport manager Chris Wood says the only way to get Waterloo Region’s facility to that position would be to increase scheduled passenger traffic – something which has them competing not only against London and Hamilton, but also against Toronto.
“Passengers are used to driving to Pearson,” he told CTV News.
“It’s difficult to get them to change, although WestJet and American have both proven that it’s possible.”
Coun. Rob Deutschmann says he understands Strickland’s “frustration” at the state of the airport, but would have preferred to temporarily forgo the new business development position in favour of putting more time into determining a solution.
“I was content with the plan that was put forward … which was to come back by the end of 2014 with a plan,” he said.
The airport currently operates at about half of its 250,000-passenger annual capacity.
Strickland said he would like to see the airport attract a carrier that would fly to Las Vegas and Orlando, which are believed to be the two most common destinations for Waterloo Region residents travelling by air.
“If we’re able to get a discount carrier into Waterloo Regional Airport that flies to Las Vegas or Orlando, even one flight a week, we get pretty well close to our capacity in no time at all,” he said.