A $30-million provincial cash infusion will allow Red Deer Regional Airport to realize its goal of becoming an aviation hub and major economic driver, says the CEO.
“This is a huge win for the region and were pretty excited about the future of the airport,” said Graham Ingham at a news conference led by Transportation and Economic Corridors Minister Devin Dreeshen to formally announce the funding included in the last provincial budget.
Ingham said developing the airport’s infrastructure, such as a wider runway and better access to 220 acres of airside developable land, will be key to attracting aviation-related businesses.
“There’s been a lot of interest. I’m just so thankful now that the infrastructure challenges have been resolved and that we can really move this airport ahead in earnest.”
The funding has already paid dividends. Aerial firefighting company Air Spray, which hosted the news conference in its hangar, announced it now intends to move ahead with plans to expand its hangar space at the airport.
Over the next two years, the provincial funding will be spent providing services, including fibre optic links to the land next to the airport as well as connecting Airport Drive with an upgraded Township Road 374 to the north to provide a second access.
Upgrading the airport is also expected to help with ongoing efforts to lure an ultra-low-cost airline to bring scheduled passenger service back to central Alberta.
“They’re in a holding pattern right now. They’re waiting for us,” said Ingham.
To prepare, the runway was widened to 45 metres from 30 metres last year as part of a $15 million project to accommodate larger planes, such as 737s. Construction on a $3 million terminal able to handle nearly 200 passengers at a time is expected to begin this summer and will take nine to 12 months to complete.
The community of Springbrook will also reap the benefits of the airport’s growth.
“This is just a tremendous opportunity for Springbrook,” he said, adding the improvements will likely attract businesses such as gas stations and commercial/retail investors.
Transportation and Economic Corridors Minister Devin Dreeshen said the airport investment is part of a wider provincial strategy to unlock the economic development potential in airports.
“We don’t have access to tidewater ports, but we do have access to airports,” Dreeshen said during the news conference.
The government taking a strategic look at its airports to see what can be done to boost exports and imports through them to promote economic development.
Dreeshen said Red Deer County’s Junction 42 truck stop, where the parking lot is to be doubled in size, is perfectly located to provide a way point for trucks on their way to or back from picking up cargo flown into the nearby airport.
Given the amount that has been invested in the airport and the other supporting infrastructure in the area, Dreeshen is confident that it will emerge as the envisioned regional aviation hub that also offers passenger service.
“A strategic advantage that this airport has is when you land here it’s a fraction of the cost of what it is to land in Calgary or Edmonton. And when it comes to cargo flights, that means a lot.”
At a broader level, policy changes are being considered by his ministry to boost the competitiveness of Alberta’s airports. The user fee system in place here puts airports at a disadvantage to U.S. competitors, which charge differently and have lower fees.
“We’re kind of in the preliminary stages to see how we can develop policies here, specifically in Alberta, that helps us compete with the Seattle airports of the world that are allowed to bring in lots of cargo at lower prices and then a lot of the time that is shipped up into Canada and Alberta.”
Airport board chair Ken Schulzke called the government investment a “great leap forward” for the airport.
“This marks an important launching point for Red Deer Regional Airport to become the aviation gateway and key economic driver for central Alberta.”
Red Deer Mayor Ken Johnston also believes the economic impacts of the airport upgrade will be far-reaching.
“This is an investment in the future of the region. It’s an investment in every single community in central Alberta,” he said.
Jim Wood, mayor of Red Deer County, said the infrastructure improvements will provide opportunities on a scale not seen before at the airport.
“These opportunities are going to create the wealth and the jobs that will see this region prosper. It is so important.”