New airport board revealed

Susan Thompson
South Peace News

The people who will be taking over the Peace Regional Airport from the Town of Peace River have been revealed, and they’re locals.

The board of the new non-profit Peace River Regional Airport Association Ltd. includes: Jeremy Hand, CEO of Avenge Energy Services; Brett Smyl, dealer principal of Mighty Peace Chevrolet Buick GMC Ltd.; Mitch Krzysztan, president of Northern Air Spray and Two Five Farms; Matt Gannon, president of AGS Mechanical; and Nate Hilman, president of Northern Air Charter [PR] Inc.

All of the board members are either commercial or private pilots and own their own aircraft.

Town council met the new board for the first time at the beginning of their Dec. 7 governance and priorities meeting. The request for proposal process to transfer the airport to someone else was conducted blind so councillors would not be biased towards or against any of the applicants during the decision-making process.

Once councillors formally agreed to transfer ownership of the airport to the new Part 9 organization on Nov. 23, those stipulations were removed, and councillors were allowed to see who the successful candidate actually was.

“All the board members are extremely successful businessmen whose only goal is to ensure that this regional asset thrives and survives as they recognize this is a very important regional community facility that provides a broad range of services that is needed and is wanted in this community,” says Town CAO Christopher Parker.

Parker says it’s a truly regional board for a regional asset, since its members each live in different parts of the local region.

“Failure is not an option for them,” he says.

Hand is president of the new airport board.

“The challenges are real with the economy as it is but general aviation is a growing industry and with Peace River’s strategic location, we see opportunity to promote not just the airport, but the region,” says Hand.

“We will bring a consensus focused approach to airport management to ensure equality and opportunity for those who visit or invest at Peace River’s airport.”

Hand’s company, Avenge, won the 2019 Business-of-the- Year award from the Peace River Chamber of Commerce, and he owns part of a hanger at the airport which is currently being renovated. The company is well-known for its contributions to the community.

However, Hand has also been involved in some controversy after a hit and run at a private residence Aug. 13 when a Corvette ZR1 owned by Hand crashed through a fence.

Smyl has been heavily involved in local events like the Peace River Airshow and many other charitable events and functions, and says, “With my experience in business, non-profit groups and being a pilot, I believe we can accomplish great things for this airport!”

Krzysztan is a farmer who has pilot licenses in both Florida and Canada. He has been operating a spray aircraft out of the airport since early 2019.

“The airport should be viewed not as a want but rather a need for the Peace Region and we are willing to face the challenges to not only keep it operating, but make it an inviting place to do business,” Krzysztan says.

Besides building two successful businesses, Gannon also owns a hangar at the airport.

“The Town of Peace River has maintained a very impressive facility and we feel we have put the right team together to carry on,” Gannon says.

Northern Air Charter has been operating from the airport for more than 30 years and also sponsors various charities. Hilman has flown over 8,000 hours in 11 different countries, and his business partner owns a 750-acre airport with a fleet of over 140 aircraft.

“As a prominent stakeholder in the PR airport, its success and viability is at the top of his priorities,” Parker says.

“The Peace River Regional Airport is such a vital part of our region and history which also supports air ambulance and fire-fighting services,” says Hilman.

“We look forward to working with new and existing businesses, together, as we strive to bring value to this important infrastructure,” he adds.

Mayor Tom Tarpey congratulates the board.

“I look forward to their success,” he says.

“I’m pleased that the board is local. If it was actually part of a larger corporation we may very well slip off their agenda.”

Councillor Colin Needham is also confident of success.

“I’m confident that you can create an adaptive business model that will be the envy of the industry and it will be the envy of the municipalities in terms of new efficient models, so welcome aboard and blue skies, gentlemen.”

More details will be revealed about the board’s ideas and plans for the airport in the coming weeks after the group has had a chance to complete the transition of taking over ownership and operations.

Autumn Hulme, with Town of Peace River communications, confirms the Town has no outstanding legal issues regarding the airport. While a judicial review of Alberta Health Services’ RFP awarding the air ambulance contract to CanWest Air is still coming up, the Town has no involvement in that review, which is being pursued by Northern Air.

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