Cabot Links confirms airport rumours; councillor, company express concerns

INVERNESS COUNTY: An Inverness Municipal Councillor and the company running the Port Hawkesbury Airport don’t like what they’re hearing about government money for a new airport in Inverness County.

Andrew Alkenbrack, Cabot Links general manager, confirmed to The Reporter they have been seeking commercial air service for the western region of Cape Breton for years.

“We have worked in cooperation with all levels of government, over many years, with the goal of providing visitors from around the world with direct access to the region and the Island’s tourism icons,” he said.

As a recognized global tourism destination that provides over 650 jobs, Alkenbrack said Cabot has been a catalyst for growth and private investment in Inverness.

“Commercial air service will help create a tourism hub in western Cape Breton, and position our province as a leader in Canada’s tourism industry.”

“I’m not overly happy and I’m kind of shocked over the rumours from the last couple of months,” councillor John Dowling said. “This is money not earmarked for the right cause; that’s how I look at it.”

The day before the June 6 council meeting, Dowling sent a letter to The Reporter that he’s heard from very reliable sources that Cabot is championing the building of an airport in Inverness County, most likely the Strathlorne area. He said he’s hearing that the provincial and federal governments are being approached to provide upwards of $18 million for the venture.

The air traffic, he said in his letter, would “fly in wealthy golfers to Cabot for six months of the year.”

“It’s money that might never actually be spent,” said Dowling. “But if it does, I think people should know how it came about.”

Dowling said there’s no timeline he knows of in relation to an announcement.

When asked if he was at liberty to say who was providing this information, Dowling said it wouldn’t be appropriate to name names. He did say he’s hearing the information from “several reliable people” and that he’s also spoken to the management of Celtic Air Services about the matter. Celtic Air runs operations at the existing airport in Inverness County, the Allan J. MacEachen Port Hawkesbury Airport.

“After moving back to Nova Scotia three years ago with my family to take on this exciting new business opportunity, I am extremely frustrated that the federal government is now jeopardizing the future of the Allan J. MacEachen Port Hawkesbury Airport,” Celtic Air president David Morgan said in a press release. “Our company has worked tirelessly to expand our customer base, promote Cape Breton as a world-class tourism destination, and revitalize the Port Hawkesbury Airport. However, this decision will endanger both Celtic Air Services and the airport itself.”

Celtic Air said it welcomed more than 1,000 flights last year, three quarters of which carried passengers visiting Cape Breton’s world-class golf courses. In addition to receiving flights from across North America, the Port Hawkesbury Airport provides 24 hour a day, 365 day a year services for EHS Lifeflight, the Department of Lands and Forestry, and the Canadian Coast Guard. Celtic Air is also actively pursuing regularly scheduled commercial flights.

The Port Hawkesbury Airport hosted the region’s first airshow in 2018, hosting the Canadian Forces Snowbirds Air Demonstration team.

Celtic Air Services has invested more than $2 million in private money into the Port Hawkesbury Airport, and surrounding communities,” said Morgan. “As someone who grew up in Cape Breton, I have prioritized providing reliable, year-round employment, as I understand how important that is to the region, our employees, and their families. I am truly disheartened that the federal government could put that at risk.”