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Pandemic's impact 'negligible' at Lake Simcoe airport, official says

Aircraft movements have decreased by around 35%, largely due to temporary closure of the flight school and decline in recreational flying, says airport manager

While talk of international flights at Pearson International Airport has been widely discussed throughout the COVID-19 era, Lake Simcoe Regional Airport (LSRA) has also made some changes to its operations. 

Located halfway between Barrie and Orillia in Oro-Medonte Township, the LSRA, which is owned and operated by the County of Simcoe, typically serves the area with around 20,000 aircraft 'movements' and between 12,000 and 15,000 passengers coming through the Line7 airport in any given year. 

Airport manager Mike Drumm says the ongoing pandemic has clearly changed that.

“As a result of COVID-19, aircraft movements have decreased by approximately 35 per cent, however, this is mostly attributable to the temporary closure of the flight school and the loss of training flights, as well as a decline in the recreational segment,” Drumm said. 

Simcoe County owns a 90 per cent stake in the local airport, with the City of Barrie holding onto 10 per cent, following a deal  struck between the two levels of government in 2019.

The change in ownership stakes, which saw Barrie's portion drop from 60 per cent down to 10, took effect Jan. 1, 2020. The county also purchased Oro-Medonte Township's shares in the airport. The City of Barrie still contributes to the airport budget. 

With the suspension and/or cancellation of airline routes, Drumm says domestic commercial activity increased as an alternate mode of transporting passengers. 

Pre-screening safety precautions are the responsibility of the air carrier, he added.

“Various companies and essential service providers elected to move passengers by utilizing dedicated chartered aircraft, enabling them to better control who was on a particular aircraft,” Drumm said.

The LSRA and the County of Simcoe are still taking the safety of anyone who comes through the terminal doors seriously.

The county says it has prioritized the health and wellbeing of staff and residents throughout the pandemic, and LSRA is following all federal COVID-19 standards, including the mandatory requirement for masks/approved face-coverings.

“Anyone entering the airport terminal building must be symptom-free, as sign-posted at all entrances,” said Drumm. “Contact cleaning after each flight and high-use periods is in effect."

Half of the airport terminal building is restricted to the general public and available only to airport and county staff, minimizing interaction, he added. As well, all staff have been supplied with the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and the on-site restaurant is restricted to takeout only.  

The majority of flights arriving and departing LSRA are internal flights within Ontario, but Canada-wide flights are also permitted. 

The Canada Border Service Agency temporarily suspended international passenger services at LSRA, as well as at a majority of airports in Canada. 

Drumm said any international flights are first required to clear in-bound arrivals at one of a select few authorized airports, such as Pearson International, and undergo screening requirements prior to proceeding to their destination airport. 

It was announced in November 2019 that, starting in September 2020, charter service to New York City would begin.

Clearly, those plans changed due to the virus.

“The New York charter flights were cancelled due to the pandemic, with plans to revisit this exciting opportunity in the future,” Drumm said. 

Despite what is happening around the pandemic, the LSRA is doing as well as can be expected in the current situation, he added.

“Approximately 93 per cent of LSRA’s annual net revenues are currently generated directly through commercial aviation, commercial property taxes and essential service related activities, land rental, landing fees, ramp fees, fuel, etc.,” Drumm said.

“The airport’s revenue streams in 2020 were only negligibly impacted by COVID-19 over 2019 figures," he added. 

Also benefiting the airport is that the LSRA is identified as an essential service provider, providing regular support to tenants such as the Ontario Provincial Police, Hydro One and air ambulance, as well as transient support to the Department of National Defence, Canadian Rangers, search and rescue, Canadian National Railway, and Ornge air ambulance.  

The airport also still has the ability to track private planes.