City Council has approved measures to provide financial stability to the North Bay Jack Garland Airport in the coming months by allowing the transfer of up to $400,000 in capital dollars to cover day to day operations.
Councillor Chris Mayne told council that at the end of February the airport was on track to see four percent growth over last year.
However, during the second week of March due to COVID-19 and a downturn in the economy, two major passenger service providers cancelled roughly 95 percent of their service to the city.
“The suggestion is the $400,000 that has already been appropriated in this year’s budget for the airport, the conditions be loosened so the airport board can use some of that money towards their operations. That should get them through until the end of August, early September, but after that, again they’re out of money,” said Mayne.
“Fortunately, the board does have some reserves. They’re using those right now to cover costs.”
The airport would need to be subsidized once it has exhausted its net cash reserves.
“From there they are saying they may need up to $200,000 a month for the balance of the year,” said Deputy Mayor Tanya Vrebosch.
The monthly subsidy will be based on the monthly cash requirements identified by the monthly financial statements presented to the city.
“Two-hundred thousand dollars for a full 12 months would amount to 2.4 million dollars. If the city needs to operate the airport, this would be mean more than a 2 per cent increase,” said Vrebosch.
“We understand that this is not sustainable for the taxpayer and therefore we will do everything we can to ensure this level of support is only for a short period of time. The recommendation is responsible at this time and has sufficient funds to stop-gap the situation.”
Mayne said temporarily closing the airport is not an option.
“The reality is you would probably lose NAV Canada who mans the airport tower, the radar stations. Voyageur Airlines would not be able to operate nor would Helicopters Canada,” said Mayne.
“And the recertification process would be onerous, expensive and we would probably lose a lot of the things that we’re able to enjoy right now under our current certification. So, it is not a recommended choice.”
The deputy mayor says supporting the airport is the right thing to do.
“To make sure that we give reassurance to the businesses that are utilizing the airport, which is one of our most essential economic assets, that we will fight to keep that 10-thousand-foot runway up to par. We need to make sure that they are reassured that we are here.”
Saying he understands the rationale, was not enough for Councillor Mark King to support the motion calling it “premature at best.”
“The report indicates that it is an essential transportation system to the region,” noted King.
“But what we’re doing now is penalizing the North Bay taxpayer to cover the shortfall of a regional airport that is required for the region.”
King told council that, “We’re saying to the taxpayers, the property taxpayers of the City of North Bay that they shall pick up the operating costs of this airport when it is in fact, regional in scope. I’m not comfortable with what we’re doing here.
“It is an economic generator for the region and I fully believe that at this particular point, the pressure needs to be placed on the federal government to recognize the situation we find ourselves in.”
Council is lobbying senior levels of government for financial assistance.
Letters will be sent to the federal Minister of Transport, the Minister of Finance, the Minister of Economic Development and official Languages, Nipissing MP Anthony Rota, and the chair of the Jack Garland Airport.
Mayor Al McDonald has also been in contact with Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli.
“We’re putting it on the radar for the federal government and the provincial government as well, to say that we need their support. There is a long list of things that they are having to deal with right now, and they are dealing with the emergencies,” said Vrebosch.
“The North Bay Jack Garland Airport is fine for the next couple of months. So, we’re saying put us on the radar. We will need your help because we can’t sustain this because of the loss of revenue from airlines not flying in. But it is still being utilized whether it is for medevac or Voyageur Airways. Our mining sector really depends on our transportation system to be able to get their product out.”
Mayne stated that a study in 2018 showed the gross domestic benefit of salaries and employment to the airport is estimated at just under $28 million.
“The hope is that as passenger service starts to return later in the summer or early fall, as they manage whatever savings the board can find, the request won’t be that high. But they wanted to be realistic with their request and not come back with secondary amounts afterward.”