Questions need answers for proposed Inverness airport

We hear Cabot Links is a proposing a commercial airport for Inverness, suggesting it would help attract more people to Cape Breton Island’s tourism attractions. It appears the $18 million to pay for it would be ours. No word on whether demand exists to make it pay for itself each year it operates, so that may require more of our money too.

I can see why Cabot Golf wants to have an airport on the door step of their world class golf courses. When you look at courses like Pebble Beach (15 minutes), Kiawah Island (50 minutes) and Bandon Dunes (35 minutes and also owned by the owners of Cabot), you can see they are a shorter drive to airports; closer than the current one hour drive from the airport in Port Hastings to Cabot Links. Yet Royal Dornoch, ranked #2 in the world by Golf Digest, is an hour from the airport in Inverness, Scotland.

Having an airport in Inverness to attract people who may visit to play golf, tour the Cabot Trail and enjoy the flavours of the region from seafood to music, could be a game changer for the western side of Cape Breton Island. However this is the public’s money we are talking about, and does the public want to take this risk? Many people have expressed the $18 million could be spent on other priorities.

Has this worked elsewhere? The Southwest Oregon Regional Airport serves people going to Bandon Dunes and other attractions on Oregon’s coast. It gets 25,000 visitors each year. Commercial flights have been difficult to sustain. A number of airlines have tried and failed to maintain service. The airport states they are getting more corporate and private jets whose passengers are destined for the golf courses. They have also recently announced they have gotten a $500,000 grant and are applying for another $750,000 grant. It appears commercial traffic is not viable there without the public’s money.

How many passengers on how many flights, paying how many fees, will it take for this proposed Inverness airport to break even? In short, at what time does the public get their money back for this investment?

Handing money around to help areas of the province meets the test of the heart. It is meant in goodwill with the hope of bringing prosperity. But does it also meet the test of the head? Does it make sense? Consider the ferry between Yarmouth and Maine. This year our provincial government is spending about half of the tourism dollars (through the transportation budget) to attract the two per cent of visitors we receive to the province via that ferry. The boat is yet to set sail because the port is not ready to receive it in Bar Harbour. Whether government investment of our money is in Yarmouth or Inverness, it should be made with respect for the public’s money and with effective management to bring positive results for our economy. This is why we need answers to the questions posed here about the proposed airport for Inverness.

If in fact commercial flights coming from Toronto and New York can be set up, why not start by flying them to Port Hastings? Flying in from Halifax would not make a lot of sense, but if they are coming from those large centres and from such distances, an hour drive to Inverness would be comparable to other courses. It would save the $18 million and any annual operating shortfalls, and it could start tomorrow. If the federal and provincial governments are sincere about helping western Cape Breton Island, there are many ways to invest that $18 million.

Allan MacMaster

Inverness MLA