Barrie city council heard a presentation from board members at the Lake Simcoe Regional Airport (LSRA) at Monday night’s meeting.
The LSRA is seeking a $65.9-million total investment from the various owners of the airport.
According to Brent Hill, a board member at the LSRA, the proposal is a “one-time opportunity” for the region. Hill says over the next 10 years, Pearson Airport in Toronto will reach capacity of 80-million passengers annually. As Pearson moves towards becoming a mega-hub of overseas flying, corporate and regional flights will be pushed to smaller airports across Ontario.
Hill says LSRA should be one of those airports. In order to make that a reality, Hill says the airport would need to expand.
According to Hill, expanding the airport would allow for further economic development for the area, increase productivity, create jobs at the airport and also attract businesses to relocate to the area.
He says currently, the airport infrastructure cannot meet the needs of new businesses relocating to the region.
“If we invest now, we will be able to capitalize on the opportunities that the GTA’s constraint policies, as well as other aviation endeavors, will provide,” Hill said.
According to Hill, in order to capitalize on the opportunity, the airport needs a significant investment to expand. That is why the board is proposing a long-term, demand-based expansion which will take place in three phases.
The first phase would extend the runway to be 7,000-feet long, and 150-feet wide, enhance the electronic and visual aids and lighting system and enhance airport support services.
According to Hill, phase one would also include acquiring additional lands and enhancing related infrastructure.
The second phase would focus on enhancing charter service, but would also be a time for officials to review the plan and determine if there is still a case for expansion.
The third phase would entail most of the ground-side infrastructure building and would expand airport services to a new terminal.
Hill says while he understands they are seeking a significant amount of taxpayer money, he says the cost of doing nothing would be bigger.
“We would forfeit both immediate and future opportunities, and we’ve already received significant expressions of interest from companies looking to relocate. But we would also potentially lose out some of our current business to other regions who have already made these investments in their airport infrastructure,” he said.
However, not everyone was sold. Coun. Andrew Prince said while he appreciates the vision, without seeing numbers, he is unsure the investment would pay off.
“It’s just very difficult right now with that price tag without seeing some sort of a business case and some numbers attached to know that our investment will be without a doubt successful,” he said.
Coun. Mike McCann echoed Prince’s skepticism. “We have to figure out why someone on Dunlop Street is going to care about an airport,” he said.
However, Coun. Steve Trotter was more optimistic regarding the possible expansion, saying council members shouldn’t be intimidated by the price tag. “They’re not asking us to write a cheque today, this is just to create a dialogue and the opportunities available to the airport.”
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