The Lake Simcoe Regional Airport (LSRA) strategic plan landed on the agenda recently of Simcoe County Council.
County councillors were told that for the airport to take flight, $60 million is needed from its three co-owners: the County of Simcoe , the City of Barrie and the Township of Oro-Medonte.
Scott Running, president of the Lake Simcoe Regional Airport Board, said now is the time to invest in the airport, which would help expand tourism opportunities and attract businesses that rely on air transport and job creation.
Running warned that if the airport stays as is, it is unlikely it will be able to service the already-existing demand in the region, let alone take on more.
He also indicated that businesses may opt to leave or set up outside the county to places with regional airports, such as Waterloo or Peterborough, due to air access and connectivity. Waterloo and Peterborough have proposed to invest $28.3 million and $48 million respectively over 10 years into their airports.
Running presented a three-phase approach to the investment, with a portion of the funds due at each phase. The first phase involved positioning the airport as primarily for corporate aviation, the second involved strengthening the business case and the third phase involved expanding further to incorporate commercial air service.
County of Simcoe Warden Gerry Marshall thinks that it’s a bit early to be talking about how much the county is going to pledge toward the plan, but notes he has seen evidence that a vibrant airport can directly benefit the surrounding community and local economy.
“County council will need to see further details, and as a group of elected officials, we will work with our partners in Oro-Medonte and Barrie to determine the best option for LSRA, our residents and businesses,” he said.
Marshall also said he views these funding commitments as investments in the county’s future that help create growth and improve the quality of life for residents.
“There is also an immediate opportunity to leverage growing capacity issues at Pearson and increased air traffic in Southern Ontario. All these items will be considered as we work through the process,” said Marshall.
Toronto Pearson has a maximum capacity of 80 million passengers and is expected to meet that capacity within the next decade. Due to high volumes, trends are now moving toward leisure airlines to operate from regional airports where operating costs are lower.
“Airports are key enablers of trade, tourism and foreign direct investment and we understand that the growth of LSRA can increase the competitiveness of Simcoe County and Southern Ontario,” said Marshall.
Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman said he is looking forward to the matter coming before Barrie council on Monday, as that presentation will likely be more about the numbers for Barrie specifically.
“I think, before there’s investment in the airport, Barrie council (on behalf of all the residents of Barrie) are going to want to know what the return on that investment is going to be,” said Lehman.
“It’s tough to say, ‘If you build it, they will come,’ I think you need to go a little further than that,” he said.
Lehman said he’s hoping the presentation on Monday will outline the impact of the investment, specific opportunities that are lined up if the city made the investment and what to expect to be able to do in terms of reducing costs, or expanding business or creating jobs.
Mike Drumm, general manager for the airport, had a lot to say about how this investment in the airport should be seen from an economic development standpoint.
“The airport is not the destination. The airport is the conduit to experiences, economic growth and opportunity,” said Drumm.
“It’s more about providing, creating and enhancing jobs. Employee retention is important,” said Drumm, adding that having a bigger airport in addition to all the other amenities the county has to offer will be attractive to potential businesses and industries when choosing whether to expand into the area.
Lehman has specific questions he’ll be considering during the presentation at council on Monday.
“What this gets to is, as municipalities, what are our goals for the airport? And then, I think, the second and very important question is, has this got a solid business case behind it?” said Lehman.
While it’s important to have goals and aspirations, Lehman is looking to see more details on specific companies that may have shown interest should the requests be granted, as well as information on the interest of those potentially moving operations to Barrie should the airport expand.
“Those kinds of opportunities could bring a lot of jobs here. Those are major economic development opportunities. So, I think council will be very interested in them,” he said.
Lehman is also working to weigh the need for expansion with the many demands for public funds in Barrie.
“We have many roads that need fixing, many buildings that need (fixing), and to add a major capital request ... it’s going to have to have a pretty solid business case behind it,” he said.
When reached for comment this week, Oro-Medonte Township CAO Robin Dunn outlined the work completed on the Airport’s Strategic Plan.
“The airport is a significant asset and an economic driver for the Township of Oro-Medonte and the broader county,” said Dunn.
“The township is supportive of the work the LSRA Board and staff have been doing as part of the Southern Ontario Airport Network and are excited about the associated opportunities.”
The airport presentation for Oro-Medonte Township is scheduled for their July 18 council meeting.