Jack Garland Airport in North Bay has received $4.4 million in funding for a trio of projects expected to help maintain essential services to the area.
Of the funding, the largest chunk — $3.4 million — will go toward rehabilitation work on taxiways H and G and apron 2.
Another $800,000 will be used to install a high-intensity approach system on runway 8.
The final $122,000 will cover the cost of replacing a regulator transformer assembly.
The funds come from the federal Transportation Ministry's Airports Capital Assistance Program (ACAP), which helps community airports cover the costs of replacing or upgrading essential infrastructure.
Nipissing-Timiskaming MP Anthony Rota, who made the announcement virtually on Jan. 28, noted how important the airport is to the region, because of its role in serving not only residents accessing personal travel, but also transportation services for business, health care, social services, and resource development companies.
“The pandemic has highlighted the important role Canada's local and regional airports play in our economy,” Rota said.
"The Jack Garland Airport is a vital asset to sustaining the social and economic wellbeing of our community not only for North Bay, but all of Nipissing-Timiskaming.”
Airport manager Jack Santerre said the funding is “critical” to helping the airport maintain its infrastructure, as well as support the more than 500 jobs maintained by the local aviation industry.
He expects the three projects to go out to tender in February and the contracts to be awarded in March.
Construction on all three projects should begin this summer, he said, and will wrap up by September.
The airport is still in recovery mode following two years of challenges imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Santerre said scheduled passenger traffic was down 80 per cent in 2020 and 2021, while other airport traffic was down 70 per cent. But activity is rebounding.
“We were able to return that, in 2021, to close to 75 per cent of what it was pre-COVID, and right now it's tracking at pre-COVID numbers for other traffic,” Santerre said.
"As we saw last fall, passenger traffic started to climb again, and it will climb and exceed pre-COVID numbers, I expect, within the next two years.”
A year ago, the airport was at risk of closing because of an escalating deficit due to low traffic numbers.
North Bay council agreed to temporarily cover the airport's basic running costs, to the tune of $800,000, to keep the facility open.
But, as North Bay Mayor Al McDonald proudly noted, because airport staff made adjustments to their operating costs, they didn't need to tap into the emergency fund after all.
“There was some chatter about closing it down and opening it up when COVID was over, but what most people don't realize is that if you close it down, it takes years before you can get it up and running again,” McDonald said.
Santerre said airport staff is continuously looking at ways to improve the user experience, which includes bringing an additional carrier into the airport.
Currently, Air Canada, Bearskin Airlines, and Sunwing Airlines all maintain a presence at the facility.
Porter Airlines, which began offering flights in and out of North Bay in 2015, pulled out two years later, citing a lack of demand.
But in order to pique the interest of a new carrier, the business will have to be there, Santerre said.
“We need positive messaging regarding air travel, and there needs to be a return to normal business levels for carriers to grow and expand,” Santerre said.
“Once that comes into play, we’ll work actively to attract new carriers."