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New Thunder Bay airport CEO sees growth opportunities

Passenger volumes are below the pre-COVID peak but Graham Ingham says airport is in excellent financial shape

The new CEO at Thunder Bay International Airport has big plans for expansion.

The airport's passenger volume of 720,000 last year was still well below its pre-COVID peak of about 860,000, and Graham Ingham expects this year's volume will be about the same.

But there are other ways the airport can grow.

"As far as the future goes, my mind is all about land development at the airport," he said.

"So, coming up with a strategy that allows us to allocate the resources that we have to support additional land development opportunities for aviation, aviation-related businesses.... It is something that we're very, very focused on."

Ingham said there are about 200 vacant acres of land at the north end of the property.

"That's prime for development. In the next year, that's essentially where my head's at. Tremendous opportunities. The airport's in great shape, and the board has done a fantastic job with this airport, and should be very proud."

Ingham recently came to Thunder Bay from Alberta where he served as CEO of Red Deer Regional Airport for seven years.

He believes Thunder Bay Airport is in a strong position with a $4.6-million profit in the past year, no long-term debt on the books, and just over $30 million in its investment account.

"This is probably one of the best-run airports in Canada — not only financially, but operationally. As incoming president and CEO, it's so nice to be handed such a rich portfolio."

Ingham noted that the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact air travel patterns across the coun

"We're just starting to settle into kind of what the new norm is going to be.... We know the service level is not exactly where we'd like to see it, especially on the Air Canada route from Thunder Bay to Pearson [Airport]. But there's a lot of constraints out there. It's all about allocating resources, and there just isn't a whole lot of spare capacity."

He added, though, that there are still some positive signs.

"This summer, WestJet is increasing their frequency from three times weekly in July and August to five times weekly. Encore is adding another weekly service on Wednesdays to Winnipeg. And obviously we've got the Porter service that started last year in Ottawa. So that's all falling into place nicely."

Ingham said the airlines are "trying to get that mix right, and getting the best use out of their assets," but that current passenger load factors "are really, really good out of Thunder Bay," with Air Canada probably in the mid-80s and Porter "exactly where they need to be, 75 to 80 per cent. And Encore is doing quite well itself. So, all in all, it's not where it needs to be, but it's strong nonetheless."

Mining and mineral exploration in northwestern Ontario, he said, continue to be important contributors to passenger volumes.

— TBNewswatch, with files from Neve Van Pelt/TBT News