A new chapter in the continuing saga of what to do with the Moose Jaw Municipal Airport has started. Councillor Brian Swanson has asked for a report on the idea of potentially selling the facility north east of the city, to a group who wants to establish a local airport authority.
They were back before Moose Jaw City Council this week, presenting their case for injecting more funds into the facility. The group includes businesses that use the airport and former Snowbirds Commanding Officer Maryse Carmichael. She is suggesting that improvements to the airport could attract new industry and business to the area.
"It's a time where aviation is growing." said Carmichael. "We see businesses coming to Moose Jaw demanding that we have air travel and better air travel. It's not 1940 anymore and aviation is growing and time is money."
The group is asking City Hall to approve the creation of a Municipal Airport Authority to give more hands on operation at the airport that is currently handled "on the edge of the desk" according to city administration who say there is so much to do already that the airport just isn't a top priority compared to streets and water pipes. That supports the case that the group is making, saying there needs to be a structure in place to support the airport that is currently at capacity.
They would like the city to also put up half a million dollars to try and draw on higher levels of funding.
"There are, at the federal and provincial levels, funds in place to improve airports across Canada but the foundation of being able to access those funds is to have municipality approval."
The city has drawn on some of those funds and grants in the past, like the $27,000 that was announced just last month by the province for upgraded wiring of field lights as part of the Community Airport Partnership Program. However, Carmichael believes there's a lot more money out there, in the range of a million dollars, that could allow for the runway to be expanded, new hangars to be constructed and better infrastructure for pilots making use of the facility.
That expansion could also lead to new training opportunities through 15 Wing Moose Jaw, according to the group. Carmichael believes that if the airport gets a facelift, there could be a chance to see civilian training or even some commercial training to occur. She says there are Asian citizens that are constantly coming to western Canada to train and our city could capitalize on that need.
While many councillors appeared ready to approve the move, Councillor Brian Swanson grounded the conversation by reminding councillors that promises of greatness have been made in the past. He said there have been at least six presentations and two reports done that also suggested the airport is the key to more industry and yet no further action has been taken on any of the proposals.
A 2008 presentation to City Council by RP Erickson and Associates, an airport consultant from Calgary, suggested a residential aviation park. The idea was that the land around the airport could be developed into a subdivision where each home would have a private hangar for a small, personal aircraft and access to the runway. That idea never saw the light of day again.
There was even a request for proposals that was issued by the city to see if there was private interest in the airport but that didn't get off the ground either. In a 2014 interview with DiscoverMooseJaw.com, former City Engineer Ty Stokes said, "Perhaps there are investors out there with ideas to make it run as an airport for themselves... it's just not that economically viable to commit resources to something that is that small of a scale or that underutilized by the municipality."
Swanson also asked about private investment, saying if the group is so sure they can make it work, maybe the city should sell them the airport and then can do what they like with it. He followed up his comments with a motion requesting a report on the idea of selling the airport to the group for a dollar. He suggested the sale would remove funding from the operating and capital budgets that could be used elsewhere and if they were to also sell some of the farmland that the city owns around the airport, that funding would also help their cash strapped infrastructure.
While a report on the possible sale of the airport will take most of the summer to complete, Carmichael was lukewarm to the idea saying she only knows of one privately owned airport in the country and isn't sure if the proposal would work. But, she would talk over the potential with other members of the group before providing any further speculation.
However, she did say that there are private dollars that could be used for the upgrades, if needed. When asked what would happen if the city only approved a municipal airport authority to be created, without the $500,000 to go after grants, Carmichael suggested there's enough interest that they might be able to still get some funding.
"We've already gone to a few stakeholders that have pledged up to half a million dollars to match the city's potential investment and that would allow us to go to the provincial and federal levels. So if the city does not give any funding then it would be up to the airport authority to seek private investment."
But she added that without a commitment from the city, it's hard to sell any proposal to higher levels of government or even private investors.
Currently, three tenants are listed as part of the airport along side the private residents who store their aircraft at the site.
Skydive South Sask is a Regina based skydiving school that uses the airport as drop zone, the Moose Jaw Flying Club and then Provincial Airways, an aerial application and aircraft maintenance company.