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Future of Kirkland Lake Airport up in the air

Decertify, outsource, sale, among cost-cutting options for 4,500-foot strip
NorOntair De Havilland Twin Otter at Kirkland Lake Airport, 1985 (Alain Rioux)
NorOntair De Havilland Twin Otter at Kirkland Lake Airport in 1985 (Alain Rioux photo).

All options are on the table in deciding the future of Kirkland Lake’s 43-year-old airport.

With escalating operational costs and no chance of scheduled air service ever coming back, the Town of Kirkland Lake wants feedback from the public on what should be its next move.

In recently launching a review of the 780-acre facility, town planner Ashley Bilodeau, who oversees the airport, said the municipality of 8,000 is gauging citizen interest on whether to keep it as a taxpayer-funded facility.

Among the range of options, the northeastern Ontario gold mining town is examining the airport's hours of operation, whether to outsource services, decertification of the airfield, even selling it off.

The airport averages 500 to 600 flights each year, about half are Medivac flights but there is some corporate traffic, including twice-weekly flights from Kirkland Lake Gold.

There’s a fully-lighted 4,500-foot runway (long enough for a Dash-8 aircraft), a terminal building, and two hangars.

The facility is certified to accommodate a scheduled air carrier but there hasn’t been one since 1998 when Pem-Air cancelled service after only one year.

Wilf Hass, the town’s director of economic development and tourism, said the likelihood of drawing an airline to a small market like Kirkland Lake is extremely slim.

The airport opened in 1975 and through the years received steady provincial and federal government funding for operations and infrastructure improvements.

These days, small-town airports are largely left on their own to raise revenue from landing fees, fuel sales, and hangar leases.

In 2017, the airport incurred an operating deficit of $73,181. That was considered a banner year – considering the airport usually runs well north of $100,000 in red figures – but it was largely due to a record year in fuel sales, something the town isn’t counting on in the future.

Over the next 10 years, the town is faced with an expected $3.2 million in capital costs, including $1.5 million to resurface the runway.

Trying to raise more revenue by promoting its extensive acreage as a business park likely wouldn’t work, said Hass.

The airport is located eight kilometres outside of town and doesn’t offer extended municipal water and sewer services.

Decertifying the airport would certainly cut costs at the facility. Airports with scheduled air service must be certified with stringent operating and winter maintenance standards, all of which results in rising costs to stay in regulatory compliance.

“(Decertifying) doesn’t affect the charters coming in,” assured Bilodeau. “It doesn’t affect our business users.”

Decommissioning the airport would cost about $2 million to dismantle the buildings and infrastructure, and do the environmental remediation to remove things like the fuel tanks. 

Most of the feedback received during a recent public forum, said Bilodeau, "was to decertify the airport and keep it operating annually so that it won't affect medivac (flights)."

Both Bilodeau and Hass said the town would certainly entertain any overtures from a private operator to run the airport for them.

“We would consider any option, from subcontracting the whole thing out, having an owner-operator, lease-to-own, take it over and turn into a drone (base),” said Hass. “We’re open to any of these.”

After consulting with the public, Hass said it’ll be up to local politicians to decide the airport’s future, something that will be in the new council’s hands after the October municipal election.