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Parry Sound airport expands

The managers of the Parry Sound Area Municipal Airport could be the poster boys for how small Canadian airports can survive and thrive.
Parry Sound airport
“It’s all word of mouth. We don’t do any formal advertising,” says airport commissioner Doug Sainsbury.

The managers of the Parry Sound Area Municipal Airport could be the poster boys for how small Canadian airports can survive and thrive.

The facility is undergoing a third round of construction and expansion with 21 new private hangars and three commercial hangars going up this year.

A great deal of rock blasting was done to carve away a hill and prepare the site to accommodate new power, water and sewer connections for the hangars.

This latest round of expansion involves more than $3 million in investment. A good chunk – about $2 million – is private money, with the feds and province each chipping in $495,000, and $120,000 coming from the airport’s reserves.

Airport commissioner Doug Sainsbury said 18 aircraft owners have signed up to lease hangar lot spaces. Two companies are coming in, including a large aircraft and helicopter servicing and refurbishment business. It will tack on seven more jobs to a total of 110 full-time jobs at the facility, which includes an industrial park.

“It’s all word of mouth,” said Sainsbury, who is also a Seguin Township councillor. “We don’t do any formal advertising. Pilots come in and see we’re clearing more land then ask what we’re doing...and it goes from there.”

With the land cleared, construction starts in August. The airport authority doesn’t build anything, only leasing the lots. The pilots and companies construct their own hangars, although Sainsbury said the commission is contemplating building a third hangar as a drawing card for aviation companies.

In his seven years on the commission, he has watched five companies relocate to the airport, located 20 kilometres south of the town on Highway 400. The facility is jointly run by Seguin Township and the Town of Parry Sound.

Its commission has a successful track record for attracting new tenants in aviation and non-aviation light manufacturing. The airport is already blessed to have bushplane manufacturer Found Aircraft as an anchor tenant since 1999, and Lawrence Aero, a light aircraft maintenance shop, since 1982.

The commission knows the ropes in how to tap into federal and provincial funds in building 17 private hangars on the airport’s east side in 2007, along with making major infrastructure upgrades and a passenger terminal expansion.

By 2008, they were adding more infrastructure to expand their industrial park, which encouraged three local companies to relocate.

All this development through the years has put the airport in the black. Last year, they cleared $11,000 and this upcoming third phase adds another $50,000 to the bottom line.

But the commission isn’t done yet. They are submitting plans for a fourth phase of expansion. In a spot just to the north that was once cleared to accommodate a crosswind runway, they want to add 24 more hangars. The plans also call for a taxi way to clear congestion on the main runway.

“We’ve defined the project and I’m giving the funding agencies a peek at the next one as this third phase is rolling along to a conclusion,” said Sainsbury.

Given the demand for private hangars, he suspects they’ll have no trouble leasing those as well.

On the commission’s long-term wish list is the attraction of a charter company to operate out of the airport, and the addition of 1,000 feet to their 4,000-foot runway.

“I think 5,000 or 5,500 feet would allow us to get mid-sized commuter aircraft in,” said airport manager Neil Pirie, who has watched business jets like Falcon 2000s and Cessna Citations arrive at the facility.

Small corporate jets can land in Parry Sound, but only in good weather. An extra thousand feet would allow jets to land, within the regulated margins of safety, in rainy weather or to pick up extra fuel.

Another item on the wish list is the reinstatement of their federal CANPASS designation to allow international flights to land without having to clear Canada Customs elsewhere.

Their latest application was denied, “but all that does is make us more aggressive to go after it,” said Sainsbury. “We have a huge tourism industry here so we really need that CANPASS.”

In 2009, the airport authority tracked 7,805 aircraft movements, most of them single-engine general aircraft owned by locals or cottagers flying into the Parry Sound-Muskoka area.

Sainsbury attributes their success to the strength of the commission members.

“They do what they say they’re going to do and we have a nice atmosphere. It’s a fun place to be around.”