Campbell River airport could drive the local economy

The Campbell River Airport could be the best option to replace taxes lost from the Catalyst mill, according to the Airport Authority

The Campbell River Airport could be the best option to replace taxes lost from the Catalyst mill, according to the Airport Authority.

The airport is currently treated as a city utility and is funded by taxpayer subsidy. The Airport Authority believes the airport could instead become an economic driver.

“The Airport Authority recommends this investment in the airport to permit the airport to…become the most sustainable option available to the City of Campbell River to replace the industrial base lost when the Catalyst mill property was re-assessed,” reads a report from the authority to the city.

The Airport Authority has already passed a resolution to alter the Airport Fee bylaw to provide new fee revenue – expected to be $40,000 assuming July 1 implementation.

“The time is now, not a year or two from now, to capture the opportunities that have been planned, discussed, reported but not implemented,” said the report.

The airport has run a budget deficit for several years and general taxation revenue has  subsidized the facility. Last year, the airport ran a $245,000 budget deficit and this year’s shortfall is estimated at $194,000.

Susan Sinnott, chair of the airport authority, said there is great opportunity to bring in revenue by utilizing nearby undeveloped land.

“We see the main priority related to the airport to increase the taxation base by having development on the airport and the adjacent industrial land,” Sinnott said. “We have already had discussions with Couverdon (Timber West) and a rough outline of a proposed aviation park on the south side of the Airport Road. There is approximately 300 acres of industrial-zoned land around the airport mostly owned by Couverdon and the airport itself has land available for lease.”

The Airport Authority is looking for $104,061 from the city for marketing and economic development to help attract tenants.

“It is the intention of the Airport Authority to begin a marketing process of informing all existing tenants of all B.C. and Alberta airports that we have land and proximity to major consumer markets,” said the authority’s report. “By having Highway 19 so close to our airport we can encourage businesses that need access to convenient transportation to relocate. Campbell River has space, people, and affordable housing and should be able to motivate large employers here. Our goal is to work towards 100 per cent tenancy of all the lots available at our airport and thus reduce our need for the public dollars of support.”

The Airport Authority is looking to alter its purchasing methods so it can reduce its fuel prices which are some of the most expensive in south western Canada and possibly North America.

Sinnott said that is because the authority does not have a purchasing methodology that ensures competitors’ wholesale prices are checked and made available to the airport’s supplier as a comparable for proper pricing.

As a result, Sinnott said itinerant landings at Campbell River Airport are almost non-existent.

Sinnott said with proper purchasing methods it’s estimated the airport could increase fuel sales by 40 per cent.

The Airport Authority is also looking at putting in a pilots lounge for crews to relax and meet with airport staff.

Sinnott said according to Statistics Canada, the amount of transborder traffic coming through the airport is “striking” and in the summer, the volumes are greater than anywhere in the south.

“We want to make sure they feel welcome,” Sinnott said. “Right now the service at our airport is not that great. We do not want to lose our position as a destination for these corporate jets.”

The Airport Authority is also seeking city approval to hire an airport manager, at a cost of $111,020, to improve airport governance.

“The authority currently has the responsibility to operate the airport, but no real ability to carry out these functions without some debate who is in fact directing the airport,” Sinnott said. “This request for an airport manager is a vital request.”

All of the Airport Authority’s financial requests will be debated by council during budget meetings which got underway Tuesday night and continue until the end of March.