North Bay Mayor Al McDonald says council has sent a very strong message that it is not going to allow the Jack Garland Airport to close.
The airport is dealing with the recent announcement that Air Canada is pulling up stakes, along with the ongoing impact of COVID-19.
With its 10,000-foot runway, the airport has been identified by the city as an “important city and regional economic and community asset.”
The 2019 North Bay Jack Garland Airport Economic Impact and Land Use Study found tenants and companies located at the airport contribute more than $57 million to the North Bay and region’s annual gross domestic product.
Council was presented with three staff recommendations during its July 21 meeting of council on how to move forward.
The first recommendation is to work with local organizations and businesses to lobby the federal and provincial governments to provide funding.
“Business likes certainty. And we have 700-plus jobs dependent on the airport. If business doesn’t hear that we are going to keep the airport open, those 700 jobs would leave our community,” explained McDonald.
“Chorus Aviation has 320 employees. They actually refurbish UN aircraft. If council said that they weren’t going to keep the airport open, Chorus would leave the city with 320 jobs. They wouldn’t want to leave North Bay, but they obviously need an airport to operate. They need to be able to fly their aircraft in and out of North Bay.”
The second recommendation is to direct staff to find up to $1.5 million through the 2021 Operating and Capital Budget to keep the airport operational.
Budget deliberations for 2021 begin in the fall.
McDonald noted that he's also been in contact with Nipissing-Timiskaming MP Anthony Rota to liaise with the federal government.
The third and final recommendation is to reach a subsidy agreement for the balance of 2020 if required.
Council was reminded by Coun. Bill Vrebosch that the airport handles thousands of flights, with major employers Chorus Aviation, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, Canadore College, and Nav Canada among the other airport users.
“There is a total of 15,783 flights out of this airport and only 13,099 were Air Canada flights. The other flights included everything from medevacs to cargo to Bearskin Airlines and businesses,” said Vrebosch.
“If you had a situation where you had to fly somebody to Toronto or fly somebody over to Sudbury and you didn’t have this available to you, what would you do? Hitchhike on the highway? We have to protect this.”
Vrebosch, who was recently appointed to Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities, will be asking the organization to support regional airports.
“This thing is more than just an economic builder in North Bay," he said. "You can’t afford not to support this."