Business plan in the works to decide future of Kincardine airport


By Barb McKay


Kincardine’s airport task force will develop a business plan to determine if extending the municipal airport’s main runway is a worthwhile investment.


The task force, led by the Penetangore Regional Economic Development Corporation (PREDC), made a presentation to Kincardine council during is meeting last Wednesday to discuss a plan to develop a business case for expanding the airport. If the municipality wants to continue to grow, said PREDC executive director Ron Coristine, we need a means of transporting people and goods. He said the cost of the plan would be his time plus $10,000 and is expected to be completed by March 2015.


The annual cost to operate the airport is approximately $100,000, which makes up about 0.5 per cent of the municipal budget. This does not include capital costs, snow removal and grass cutting. An airport strategic plan completed by Genivar last year recommended expanding the main runway from 4,000 feet to 5,000 feet, which would require widening it by 75 feet. It would cost the municipality roughly $3 million to extend the strip and another $1 million to refurbish the 4,000 feet of paved runway that is already there.


Nearby municipal airports, including Wiarton, Stratford and Orillia, already have 5,000-foot runways, enabling them to accept larger aircraft.


If the airport is to be a means of economic development and generate revenue for the municipality, it needs to be expanded in order to compete with other municipalities that are looking to grow their airports, said Don Jones, a member of the task force. Recently, the task force surveyed 16 pilots and aircraft owners about what they would like to see at the airport and there was interest in setting up commercial businesses related to the airport.


“There is evidence of business investment potential and that needs to be explored,” said Jones.


A business plan, with a cost benefit analysis, is needed to know what the return on investment would be, he added.


As part of its agreement with the municipality for the Armow Wind Project, developers Samsung Renewable Energy and Pattern Renewable Holdings have established a community benefit fund, which includes $1 million for the municipal airport. The task force is also hopeful there will be $2 million in funding through the Canada Build Fund for the runway expansion. The fund provides one third federal and one third provincial funding for municipal infrastructure projects.


While council agreed that the municipality should not let the airport’s runways deteriorate some members questioned if expanding the airport is viable. Councillor Jacqueline Faubert said it is still unclear what impact the Armow Wind Project will have on the future of the airport. She said insurance policies prevent pilots from landing under certain conditions. She asked the task force representatives what they saw as the biggest threats to a small municipal airport.


“Our biggest threat is to do nothing,” said Allan Ribbink. “It could revert back to a grass runway. We have to maintain what we have.”


If the runway is left to deteriorate, Ribbink said, NAV CANADA, which regulates airports, could close the runway. There are also liability issues, he added, if a plane is damaged on broken pavement.


“I agree we need to know exactly what we are going to do and we need to know how much we are investing on the runway and we need to know if we are going to get a return on our investment,” said deputy mayor Anne Eadie.


Councillor Ken Craig said developing a business plan will be a good opportunity to see how a small airport can become more of an economic engine.


“I can imagine all kinds of things at the airport, but I’m not sure if they are viable or logical,” he said, “so let’s see a business case.”


Coristine said the airport could see more traffic in the coming years from corporate jets when Bruce Power begins its expected refurbishment and as other large corporations in the area grow. He said the task force is looking at opportunities to assemble and ship products, particularly related to the energy sector, and a possible opportunity through the Bruce Botanical Food Gardens to dry and ship food items.


Councillor Randy Roppel said when the task force is developing its plan it should work closely with the recreational pilots who use the airport as well to ensure that their needs are addressed. He said the plan should also include costs to maintaining the current runways. Jones said the plan will look what would be involved in keeping the airport at status quo and expanding it.


Kincardine CAO Murray Clarke, who sits on the task force, cautioned council that the plan could come with significant budget implications if a runway expansion becomes the preferred option. If the municipality were to present or take part in any legal challenge against the Armow Wind Project the $1 million in funding would disappear. He stressed that council should decide if it wants to apply for the Canada Build Fund specifically for the airport soon because the process is very competitive.


“Municipalities that are shovel ready will move to the front of the cue.”


Roppel said council has other projects on the books, including a new community centre in Tiverton, that it needs to consider when applying for funding.


Council directed municipal staff to work with the task force and bring a report back about how council should proceed with a Canada Build Fund application.