Airport above water--for now.
In the fall of 2005, the two-runway airport came close to shutting its doors permanently when its operational expenses exceeded its revenues.
Armstrong Township Reeve Jules Gravel, who is acting volunteer manager of the airport, says last year's expenses, $315,000, exceeded the revenues of $265,000. So when the threat of permanent closure loomed overhead, interested parties, Members of Parliament and businesses were invited to an emergency meeting held in November.
Nipissing-Timiskaming MP Anthony Rota views the airport as regional and says there is a need for it.
"We have a working facility and we have to fight to keep it in place," he says. "It's an investment in the area and if the service is there, it's allowing infrastructure for the region that can be used to support business in the area."
The federal airport's history dates back to 1937 when it originally opened as an emergency landing field. Over the years since, there were provincially run scheduled flights, but they were cancelled due to government cutbacks. In 1997, the federal government transferred the ownership of the airport to the Corporation of the Township of Armstrong. After the SARS outbreak and other factors reduced the number of regularly scheduled flight service, the airport was denied funding from the Airport Capital Assistance Program (ACAP), where eligibility requires scheduled flight service.
Today, approximately 18 municipalities, private businesses and medical communities rely upon the 24-hour-a-day, year-round airport. The largest user is local lumber giant Grant Forest Products, which leases a portion of the airport, flying three airplanes and employing 17 people plus a maintenance crew of five. The air ambulance service runs between 200 and 400 flights out of the facility annually.
The airport's economic impact in the area exceeds $1.5 million annually.
Situated on 700 acres of agricultural land, the east/west 6,000-foot-long asphalt runway is easily accessible from Highway 640, just off of Highway 11. It also has a shorter, 3,000-ft. gravel runway perpendicular to the main one.
In order to avoid losing the airport, some creative brainstorming led to several proactive measures.
The landing and maintenance fees have been increased by 20 per cent, bringing them in line with other airports.
Municipalities agreed to pay a 50 per cent retroactive increase to their 2005 contributions on a per capita basis.
The federal government has provided $217,000 to upgrade the surrounding land with tile drainage in order to make it more agriculturally productive for farmers interested in leasing it.
Efforts are underway to obtain the gas tax rebate for the airport, not just the municipalities. Gravel says the rebate is distributed to municipalities based on population. But he wants it based in proportion to the amount of fuel sold, specific to the airport.
An application has been submitted to the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corp.
The airport is looking for scheduled air service, possibly one-day round trips to Toronto for business people.
Presently, the airport is selling fuel to the mining exploration sector.
Gravel says there are other projects in the works, but could not elaborate. He is also hoping to increase the airport's staff to 5.5 full-time equivalents by the fall.
"We're not dead yet."
By ADELLE LARMOUR
Northern Ontario Business