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Sault on the flight path for international air race

Airport will be overnight pit stop for Air Race Classic

The Sault Ste. Marie Airport will play host to an international cross-country air race this summer.

The Air Race Classic is a women's air racing event that goes back 90 years to the first air derby event beginning with Amelia Earhart.

Sault Ste. Marie will be one of the stops in the cross-border event, running June 18-21.

The race, which begins in Jackson, Tenn. and ends in Welland, Ont., will cover more than 4,000 kilometres with stops along the way as the race must be flown during daylight hours.

Chippewa County Airport, south of Sault, Mich., is the flyby timing location, while Sault, Ont. will be the fuel stop and an overnight stay location.

"I hadn't heard about it until this year when (organizers) reached out to see if we'd be interested," said Terry Bos, president-CEO of the Sault Ste. Marie Airport Development Corp.

More than 100 pilots – racing in teams – from around the globe are expected to participate.

The race takes a different route every year, exposing pilots to changes in terrain, weather, wind and space.

Based on the type of recreational aircraft, it's a timed handicap race with pilots departing in intervals.

Bos said it's conceivable the Sault could host between 40 and 50 aircraft on their apron.

The race won't be a big revenue generator in terms of fees, Bos said, based on the size of aircraft, but he's not turning down an opportunity to promote the airport.

"Maybe these pilots that never thought of Sault Ste. Marie or Canada before, if we show them a good time and how efficient we can be, maybe they'll decide on a trip that they'll want to come through here again," he said.

"It's more about showcasing the airport and trying to build future opportunities."

It's also an opportunity for the Sault to provide overnight accommodations and for racers to take on fuel for the next leg of the race.

The pilots will also need to clear Customs before they trek east to North Bay, then south to Brantford, before finishing at the Pelham airport in Welland.

The Sault Airport averages about 215,000 passengers annually with approximately 60,000 aircraft movements.

The authority has been particularly successful in luring other kinds of cross-border traffic with its competitive airfares.

A combination of the strength of the U.S. dollar combined with the connectivity of Porter Airlines into desirable U.S. cities on the East Coast and Air Canada's global network has been attractive to American travellers.

Winter charter flights to the Caribbean, via Sunwing Airlines, out of the Sault for the past 10 years have been a big boost as well.

Bos said at times, the Sault's put as many as 120 travellers aboard Sunwing's 737 aircraft, which it shares with Hamilton.

"With the Canadian dollar staying low the last couple of years, we've seen an uptake in U.S. passengers coming our way and also managed Canadians staying on our side of the border."

Bos said the airport continues to promote itself as a place for development.

The 1,600-acre facility has 800 to 1,000 acres available for sale or lease for aviation or non-aviation related uses. JD Aero, an aircraft refurbisher, is the airport's most high-profile tenant, occupying two hangars.

Bos said they've looked at opportunities of expansion for them or the addition of a complementary aircraft paint shop facility as part of a larger effort to create a business park.