Editorial – That 1 metre pipe south

Jeff Burgar

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away …

Oops! Wrong story! Wrong beginning!

So, there was a time, many years, towns and cities competed mightily over which of them would have the biggest airport. Helped by the provincial government of the day, very nice terminal buildings went up. Runways were widened and made longer. Pavement was added. Aprons were improved. They were all very nice projects.

There were high hopes air transport companies would pop up helter skelter. People would no longer be driving off to big cities from the wilds of Grimshaw or Donnelly in the middle of winter. Air ambulances would flit between hospitals, saving lives and limbs of accident victims. Industrial development would blossom.

Very inspiring indeed! One could feel the enthusiasm everywhere!

These days, airports haven’t fallen out of favour. But they are not viewed with the same excitement and fervour that existed in those heady days of old.

In two cases, Peace River and High Prairie, there is mixed feeling in their local governments. At the High Prairie & Area Chamber of Commerce, the state of the airport is of so little interest it has not been on the agenda for years. Further, High Prairie town council sold their interest in that airport to Big Lakes County three years ago.

The good news is, since then, the County made significant upgrades. Even now, it is in the process of extending the runway to 4,300 feet. The Town of High Prairie still pays 10 per cent of operating costs. Bad news these days, it doesn’t like even that small amount.

In Peace River, the Town runs the airport. It’s looking at a $740,000 loss. They have to decide what to do. Look for more cost sharing from regional governments. Get more help from the provincial government – a body famous for throwing money at situations, then walking away from them and downloading costs. Perhaps charge users more. Combinations of things.

Airports should be money makers. In Edmonton and Calgary, they certainly are. A lot of that has to do with ever present fees and charges on passengers. In Edmonton, a whole new industrial and retail park is built, not to mention the latest expansion of the terminal itself. It’s booming.

Meanwhile, Peace River had 27,501 passengers in 1996 along with 20,000 plane movements. Last year it was 6,000 passengers and 3,000 movements. It has never made money. It’s really quite depressing.

Is this some kind of continuing trend right across the board for small airports everywhere? On the other hand, broadband Internet services already make up for a lot of face-to-face needs. So it’s not all doom and gloom for local citizens. If they ever get big broadband, that is.

There is a bottom line here. The real doom and gloom is a provincial government that pleads broke in the bad times. In the good times they build bigger cities. Milk, cereal, building products and fuels do not come from stores in Edmonton and Calgary. Put that at the top of option list for airports.

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