Lake Simcoe Regional Airport Needs To Grow To Keep Up

Hefty Price Tag To Proposed Long Term Plan Capitalizing on Pearson Capacity Woes

The Lake Simcoe Regional Airport needs some work if it is going to keep up with the times. That’s the takeaway from a presentation given to Barrie City Council Monday night, as the airport Board of Directors proposes a transition in three phases, from a local community airport to a key hub supporting economic growth in Simcoe County. The multi-tier plan comes with a price tag of nearly $66 million. This talk of enhancing Simcoe County’s airport comes amid a few factors not present even two years ago.

Toronto’s Pearson is near capacity.

Lake Simcoe Regional Airport needs to grow as Pearson is ten years away from capacity, and in 2016 declared it’s intention to achieve “mega hub” status. In that same year, the airport saw 44 million passengers, while that number is expected to exceed 50 million by the end of 2018. At its current growth, Pearson is expected to surpass its 80 million passenger capacity within the next decade. Expanding Lake Simcoe Regional would allow the airport to handle some of the overflow, and moreover, capitalize on it.

SOAN

The Lake Simcoe Regional Airport was last year made a part of the Southern Ontario Airport Network. Eleven of the region’s most commercially significant airports were made part of this group last year, with the intent to identify potential opportunities (collectively and as individual airports) to accommodate forecasted air travel demand and improve infrastructure.

Brent Hill, the civilian member of the Lake Simcoe Regional Airport Board of Directors says SOAN’s creation allows the eleven member airports to compete for the business overflowing from a Pearson airport near capacity. “If we wait to invest, other SOAN airports will capitalize on constraint opportunities from Toronto-Pearson, as well as other commercial aviation endeavors. It is our opportunity to lose.”

“Reached a Threshold”

There is increased demand for air travel to and from the region, predominantly in the form of business travel and cargo, with even more demand foreseen in the future. The presentation Monday night claims a projected increase of 110 million passengers and a million tonnes of cargo by the year 2043, compared to 47 million passengers and 400,000 tonnes of cargo in 2017.

Three Phase Process

The first phase calls for increasing the size of 18 of the airport’s runways, along with new approach lights, improved services and infrastructure, and adding more land, all to the tune of $27.5 million dollars.

Phase two would come three years later and involve significant business planning, and review. Hill says this phase allows those involved to take a look at all the changes made and see what else is required, what works and what doesn’t, before any further modification to the airport goes ahead. The Board has put on a price tag of $350,000.

Phase 3 would come when needed; At $38 million, phase three calls for an air terminal building to be built, along with expanded services and utilities to go along with it. It is expected increased passenger service would come to the airport at this stage.

“I would Appreciate […] Some Hard Facts”

Barrie Councillor Andrew Prince wants to see a concrete plan. “It is hard to sit here and stomach the numbers when I haven’t seen a business case. I would really appreciate some more information, some hard numbers, some hard facts.” Hill compares it to investing in a road.  “The airport itself is not going to be the money maker… it’s to make sure we can bring business into the region and have access to the region.”

Councillor Arif Khan agrees that it serves a purpose, that it will be an economic driver for the region, but wonders if there is something a regional airport could not achieve that a mega-hub like Pearson could, “or would it check every box out there?” Hill says connectivity to the GTA, along with adequate infrastructure, security, and customs are either already in place, or would be as part of the long term plan.

Councillor Steve Trotter, who sits on the airport’s Board, says the whole presentation is designed to see how interested Barrie, the airport’s largest shareholder, is in looking deeper into the airport’s expansion. “we have to be careful not to be shocked by the number, and look at what the content is.” He says no decision was expected following tonight’s meeting, “they’re not asking us to write a cheque for $27 million today. That’s not the purpose of today, it’s to create a dialogue.” A staff report regarding the airport’s expansion is expected in the coming weeks, exploring the viability of the airport Board’s plan.

The City of Barrie owns the lion’s share of the airport at 60%, while the County of Simcoe and Township of Oro Medonte each lay claim to 20% of the facility. The nine member Board of Directors that oversees the airport is comprised of five City of Barrie appointees, with two each from Simcoe and Oro.