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Stratford Airport unlikely to be financially sustainable: expert

Although not self-sustaining, Stratford Municipal Airport offers economic and social assets to the region
The Stratford Municipal Airport.

A report on Stratford Municipal airport has found it is not financially sustainable and is unlikely to become so, but it is up to city council to deduce if the airport is worth the cost. 

The final report on the financial viability of the airport was presented at this week's regular city council meeting. Ben Crooks of HM Aero Inc., the consulting firm that produced the report, presented their findings. 

Before conducting the study, HM Aero Inc. held a community survey on the Engage Stratford website. There were 59 respondents. 

Sixty-five per cent of respondents wanted the airport retained and the operations to continue. Only 25 per cent want divestment and continued operations while seven per cent wanted divestment and closure. The rest, four per cent, indicated ‘other’ in the survey.

The nearly 100-page report details the profile of the airport, the social and economic impacts it has on the region, possible revenue generation opportunities, and future financial analysis of operating revenue and expenses, among other things.

It also provides data on the usage of the airport, from 2017 to 2021. 

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic there was a steadily increasing amount of aircraft movements year-over-year. 2020 had the lowest amount of movements at 9,500 and in 2021 there were 12,400, still not near the 2019 peak of 15,500.

Uses are primarily done by private operators, flight training units, and Ornge Air Ambulance. Other organizations and tourism charters also use the airport in a limited capacity.  

The airport is used for youth education: the Royal Canadian Air Cadets and high school co-op education.  

Overall, the study found that the airport is not self-sustaining and that If a proactive approach to business development is taken, success may be achieved in increasing the operating revenue. Although success may be possible, the resulting increase to the reserve funds will increase the tax-supported costs between 2024 and 2032. 

That cost is estimated at $220,000 to $296,000 annually. 

Whether or not the net benefits of the service the airport provides to the municipality justifies this expense is something to consider.

The study offers three options moving forward: divestment and transition to private ownership, the retention of ownership by the City but entering into a head lease agreement for its operation, and the retention of ownership by the City with contracted operations done by a third party. 

HM Aero Inc. recommends the latter option in the conclusion of the report. 

Coun. Mark Hunter asked Crooks his opinion on charging students an additional fee to use the airfield, in an attempt to make up the deficit. Crooks advised that could dissuade prospective students from the industry, an industry that already needs more people. 

Coun. Jo-Dee Burbach indicated disappointment in the amount of respondents in the survey and that she would like a new survey conducted. 

“What I would love to see now that we have this information available, Coun. Burbach suggested, is could we create another survey on Engage Stratford with this information ... We have actual information now about the airport and its viability and some of those opinions might change.”

Council voted to receive the report and to direct staff to prepare a report outlining recommendations based on the study by HM Aero Inc.