Port Hawkesbury wants integrated approach to airports

It was a full moon rising over this Snowbird jet at the Port Hawkesbury Airport on May 29, 2018.

PORT HAWKESBURY: Projecting a net loss of $247,500 a year for the Allan J. MacEachen airport in Port Hastings should the $18 million seasonal Inverness airport be approved, the Mayor of Port Hawkesbury wants to plan an integrated approach.

Brenda Chisholm-Beaton told The Reporter regional economic development, whether it’s for tourism or any other kind of growth potential, should be done to ensure the benefits are broad.

“You don’t end up in a scenario that you have benefits in one location that are going to cause a negative impact on another,” she said. “This is not regional economic development.”

Chisholm-Beaton indicated her council wants to use existing transportation infrastructure to connect all parts of the Strait area, and that trading a year-round airport for a seasonal airport will not grow Cape Breton Island.

“The integrated airport approach is an idea that transitions the discussion away from building a new airport and shifts to can we grow our two existing air assets in a way that’s going to benefit and connect our entire island,” she said. “That will allow us to attract new visitors to Cape Breton in a way that allows us to compete globally rather than with each other.”

The goal is to get members from as many different local communities, tourism operators and development partners together at the table to find a way to get their local stakeholders to collaborate on regional air connectivity.

A release from the chair of the Allan J. MacEachen regional airport committee, Trevor Boudreau, who is also a councillor with the Town of Port Hawkesbury, explained if commercial air is the main driver behind the idea of a new airport, upgrades in Port Hastings would allow for commercial airlines to land there as opposed to a new airport.

“If the hour drive is suitable for those flying in on private jets, we believe it is safe to assume that the same would be the case for those flying in on commercial flights,” Boudreau said. “Because the proposed airport in Inverness is to be built using public dollars, we believe that the best use of that money is to work with the existing infrastructure.”

The most urgent infrastructure improvements at the Allan J. MacEachen have been recommended based on a consultant review at being $3.4 million. Implementing those improvements would increase the net loss by $200,000 annually. The loss – including recommended infrastructure upgrades – would amount to $447,500 per year.

Boudreau said they want to find a result that meets the needs of both Cabot Golf courses and the needs of the entire region, without jeopardizing existing businesses and services.

“We must make it clear that if the Alan J. MacEachen Regional Airport is to remain viable to provide services to the marine sector, heavy industry, military, and public safety services, it will again require the local taxpayer to subsidize the operation by approximately $250,000 per year,” he said. “Alan J. MacEachen is largely responsible for many of the strategic investments made in our region resulting in a vibrant and diversified economy.”

Chisholm-Beaton echoed the severity of potentially losing the regional airport as it supports businesses and industry that rely on year-round services in Port Hastings. She said that wouldn’t be offered at the airport slated to be built on Crown land on Campbellton Road, five kilometres northeast of Inverness.

“There is a reality for our current service provider Dave Morgan and Celtic Air Services, if those 1,000 private jet landings were diverted to another airport only 41 miles away, he could no longer sustain his business model,” she said. “Without 80 per cent of his business income generated by that traffic, he would go bankrupt.”