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Airport seeking proposals to develop excess of land.

Airport seeking proposals to develop excess of land

It's all talk at the moment, but action is expected this decade on economic activity at the Sault Ste. Marie airport.

Transport Canada, which operates the airport, will consider leasing parts of the airport land for light industrial use.

Airport manager John Bell said "serious" discussions are on-going with two local developers on leasing some of the land.

Since last year there have been five proposals and more are expected.

So far, ideas for use have included an industrial subdivision and a golf course.

Bell noted that the land is also being promoted by Jim Rudack, president and chief executive officer of the Sault Ste. Marie Economic Development Corporation. "He's been in contact with non-Canadian companies."

Since the land is owned by the federal government, municipal approval of its use or re-zoning would not be necessary.

The land in question is surplus to the airport's needs, said Bell. "We have at least 500 acres that won't be used for our purposes."

The decision to seek economic diversification at the airport is in keeping with a country-wide policy implemented in the last several years by the federal government.

"Basically, we're open for business," Bell said.

The airport manager added that airports in Canada are self-supporting and making a profit. "They're not a burden on the taxpayer as some people may think."

Bell noted that most American airports are owned by cities.

"They (U.S. airports) operate as a business entity and they make a substantial amount of profit," he said, adding there's no reason the same can't happen in Canada.

In all, the airport sits on 1,800 acres of land west of Sault Ste. Marie.

Bell said the federal government purchased the land not knowing exactly how much land it would need.

The whole area was swamp at one time, but, since the purchase almost 30 years ago, the airport staff has been filling in the swamp. The work was completed last year.

"They did a tremendous job," said Bell.


Meanwhile, the airport has suffered no loss of business since jet service was discontinued last year.

"The airport has been booming since the jet service pulled out," said Bell, adding there is a good level of traffic with no congestion.

In 1989 the number of passengers passing through the airport was 235,000, about a four-per-cent increase from 1988. Five years ago the number was about 175,000.

The airport handles about 45 flights per day, compared with 30 flights five years ago.

However, since jet service ended, the number of firefighters has been decreased from 13 to 10. Government regulations permit fewer firefighters at an airport used only by smaller aircraft.

Airlines regularly using the airport include Air Ontario, Canadian Partner, NorOntair and Frontier.

"With industries coming into Sault Ste. Marie, I think there will be an increase in commercial traffic," Bell said.

Currently, there are two corporate charter companies operating out of the airport, one with a Cessna 500 jet.

There will also be more charter flights if tourism picks up.

Overall, Bell foresees a good future for the airport.

"If we start a mix of aviation and non-aviation out here, I can see the airport playing a major role in the community."

Currently, the airport's 275 employees make it Sault Ste. Marie's fourth-largest manufacturing or industrial operation.

Still in the planning stage for the airport is an expansion to the air base of the Ministry of Natural Resources.

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Title Annotation:Focus on Sault Ste. Marie; Transport Canada considering leasing unused portions of Sault Ste. Marie airport
Author:Bickford, Paul
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:May 1, 1990
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