Not long ago, there was an underlying sentiment that the Earlton-Timiskaming Regional Airport should be sold off.
The rural airport was becoming too much of financial burden for the Township of Armstrong to operate.
Area municipalities were contributing to cover expenses, but there was nothing left in the coffers to make the ongoing capital improvements to the airfield and infrastructure.
These days, gloomy pessimism has given way to blue-sky optimism.
At the one-year March anniversary of the new airport authority, Temiskaming Shores Mayor Carman Kidd, the board chair, is pleased with the way the group is functioning and the direction being taken.
The installation of larger fuel tanks last November – 25,000 litres for jet fuel and 15,000 litres for aviation gas – is paying immediate dividends.
“We sold more fuel in January than we’ve ever sold in the history of the airport,” said Kidd.
With mineral exploration booming just to the south near the town of Cobalt, there’s been a noticeable uptick in traffic with fuelling stops by helicopters on airborne geophysics missions as well as corporate and medevac aircraft.
“We’re only expecting that to increase,” said Kidd. “We’re not running out (of fuel) anymore”
The latest development involves the upcoming construction of six T-hangars to accommodate recreational aircraft, thanks to $318,000 from FedNor funding.
Some of the funding is allocated for runway lighting upgrades and to install new cardlock security fuelling stations.
While companies like Pedersen Construction, Wabusk Air, and Canadian Aviation College have their own hangar space, Kidd said there was no storage space for local recreational flyers who leased space in North Bay, Sudbury and Val d’Or, Quebec.
“It was something we were really missing.”
For $400 per month, the authority expects to have no trouble leasing out the first six T-hangars. Once those are occupied, more could be on the way.
The combined $2,400 will bring a much-needed boost for the authority’s treasury to start putting its strategic plan into motion.
Other revenue is generated from landing fees and fuel sales, backed by $160,000 in annual subsidies from the 13 area municipalities who sit around the board table.
Established in 1937, the airport is located in a rural space about two kilometres outside of Earlton.
Armstrong Township operated the field through a municipal service board. But Kidd said the old governance model wasn’t working for the municipal contributors who didn’t have a say in any of the major decisions.
Much of the maintenance work, like sealing the cracks in the 6,000-foot runway, was often deferred since the money wasn’t there.
In the late 1990s, small airports were left to fend for themselves after Transport Canada relinquished control to municipalities and local authorities.
The Earlton airport is not eligible to receive federal Airports Capital Assistance Program (ACAP) funds since it hasn’t had scheduled passenger service since 2003, leaving major infrastructure upgrades on the back burner.
The nearest airports with scheduled service are in Timmins and North Bay, both roughly 180 kilometres away.
On the Quebec side, the Rouyn-Noranda airport, 110 kilometres away, offers flights to Ottawa and Montreal.
“One of our goals is to try and get some kind of regular air service between here and Sudbury,” said Kidd. “If we get three years of service, we then qualify for ACAP.”
Timiskaming is following the trend of many airports by promoting their extensive and largely unused acreage as business park space.
Clearly visible from Highway 11, and with 800 acres at the authority’s disposal, Kidd believes the property is ideal for companies, like mining suppliers, to warehouse parts or other items to fly up to remote communities on the James Bay coast and northeastern Quebec.
Marketing the business park opportunities was one of Kidd’s priorities for his trip to the world’s largest mining show in early March, the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada’s annual conference in Toronto.
Kidd said the aim is to get to the point where they’re relying less and less on municipal subsidies by attracting commercial tenants.
“It would be nice if it were self-sufficient down the road.”