Wanted: Airport clarification

Celtic Air Services president David Morgan signs the contract to run the Port Hawkesbury Airport as Port Hawkesbury CAO Terry Doyle and Port Hawkesbury Mayor Brenda Chisholm-Beaton look on.

I’ve been doing research the past few days about the proposed airport in Inverness. There are lots of opinions, plenty of criticisms, and multiple shows of support. The one thing I wasn’t able to find, however, is a single good reason why building a new airport is a better idea than funding the existing one in Port Hawkesbury.

And I looked, make no mistake about it. I was initially open-minded, and I assumed that, considering the cash-strapped state of our provincial economy, there had to be a pretty good reason why any level of government would see fit to construct a multi-million dollar airport when there was already one an hour away. Surely politicians know that building an airport specifically for golfers is a project a bit too much for Cape Bretoners to swallow. There has to be a benefit to the Inverness idea that Port Hawkesbury is missing, I thought.

So I looked.

And looked.

And I’m still looking.

Then I heard the campaign to support this new airport had a Web site, so what better place to find an explanation, right? Certainly there will be information detailing the benefits of a project of this size. And indeed, there are many endorsements from Atlantic Canada’s most prominent influencers; all with the same optimistic outlook about the future of tourism on Cape Breton Island should this project come to fruition.

But what stood out the most about everything I read is what all the comments and justifications have in common: every single one could apply to the airport in Port Hawkesbury, if some of the funding earmarked for this new airport was given to the existing one to expand its services. Every benefit to the region, every positive endorsement, would be just as well represented by air travel coming to the existing airport. The only difference I can find is the proximity to the golf courses.

“It’s closer to Cabot Links, so the golfers who fly in won’t have as far to travel to the golf courses.” Oh, no! The horror! An hour-long drive in an air conditioned Mercedes van, through some of the most beautiful coastline on earth? The landscape and scenery the proponents of this new airport are pitching as a huge draw for our region? A chance for tourists coming to play golf to see the bigger picture and appreciate the beauty of western Cape Breton beyond a golf destination?

Is that supposed to be taken into consideration as a hardship? I hope not.

Let’s be honest; people who come to play golf in Cape Breton are going to come regardless. No one is going to be deterred by a one hour drive if the courses are currently thriving despite an almost four-hour drive. So is the Inverness proposal just to cater to golfers? Is that a sound investment of taxpayer dollars? I’m all for bringing commercial air service to this side of Cape Breton, but not for just one set of tourists.

I don’t know David Morgan and I know little about his company, Celtic Air Services. But what I DO know is that he has made a successful run at opening and maintaining a business in Cape Breton, something that is not always easy to do, historically. It is categorically unfair that his livelihood, the future of his business, would be put in jeopardy by governments that are supposed to advocate for small business in this province.

If anything, sink the available funding into the Port Hawkesbury airport, and help them to complete the upgrades necessary to accommodate commercial travel, an application airport interests have made to the federal government on numerous occasions. And if that isn’t possible, someone please publish an explanation why the existing site doesn’t qualify for those upgrades. I’ve searched.

If the end goal of the proposed airport is to increase tourism on the island, that could be accomplished just as easily by having them land in Port Hawkesbury as in Inverness. Creating undue hardship by creating unnecessary competition for an existing facility is not in the spirit of the campaign’s Web site, where it boasts that, “Together, we are focused on Building Cape Breton and creating opportunities for the entire Island.” That should not come at the expense of the Allan J. MacEachen airport, Celtic Air Services, or anyone else.