February 17, 2021 By Mehreen Shahid, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Orilliamatters.com
This is part three in a series of five stories reporting on the budget presentations made to Midland council by local non-profits and agencies.
Airport manager and board chair say Huronia Airport has been flying high in spite of COVID-19.
“We had two major additions to the airport this year,” said Adam Ridgen, airport manager. “First one was 10 partially serviced building lots for leasing. They’re suitable for 50×50 hangars. We also have a new high-volume, above-ground fuel system. It replaces our old system that had reached the end of its life.”
In addition to this, board chair Don Cooper said the airport is home to a new aviation school.
“Xstream Aviation is making Huronia Airport their home,” he said. “They’re conducting (ultralight) flight lessons out of here. They have a certified Rotax repair centre, which now occupies one of our main hangars. It’s the only one in Ontario, therefore it’s quite busy.”
Cooper also alluded to another major development that’s likely to happen at some point.
“It is a major manufacturing operation,” he said. “It’s confidential at this stage. There’s a projection of 200 jobs that will be part of this package.”
In addition, Cooper said, an electrical contractor is looking to locate at the airport. Another moneymaking project could be the storage of clean soil at the south end of the site to build it up for runway renovation work.
As well, there’s possibility of building an industrial park on the property, which is already zoned to allow for such a development.
With these achievements, Rigden said, the airport brought more than $3 million to the area in economic impact.
The pair appeared before council last week to present their budget of $86,000, which includes $18,000 in capital costs for snow removal equipment.Coun. Bill Gordon was curious about their land-lease rates.
“That’s your main way of making money, are they considered market rate and how often are they renewed?” he asked. “Are you generating optimal income to offset the money we give you?”
Cooper said the rates for having private hangars are competitive.
“We are looking very carefully at what rate we would charge for facilities next year,” he said. “It would not be private hangar rates at all it would be a large multiple of those rates that we would be using for land-lease. In fact, there may be the possibility of selling the land on which facilities would be built.”
Gordon asked how the airport was dealing with the dip in the runway and how it affects insurance rates?
“To take the slope out of it is a very major capital cost,” said Rigden. “We have to do a serious cost-benefit analysis to see if it’s worth doing or not. We can mitigate the safety by improving our taxiway. If we extend that, we can see both ends of the runway. We’ve seen no issues with the insurance.”
Coun. Cher Cunningham wanted to know what were the chances of attracting a traditional flight school to the area.
“I wonder if the ultralight will add to or detract from a traditional flight school?” she asked.
Rigden that type of aircraft its in very well with any general aviation ventures.
With aviation licensing rules having changed over the years, said Gordon, would that be something area aviation enthusiasts could avail themselves of locally?
“Yes,” said Rigden, adding renting ultralight aircraft at Huronia Airport could be a possibility. “A good number of the hours accumulated getting your ultralight licence can be used toward private or commercial licences in the future.”
Mayor Stewart Strathearn asked about the replacement of the field and added a caution about the soil storage.
“I’ve heard of numerous stories of municipalities storing soil that supposedly they felt were meeting standards, only to find out they weren’t. There are massive clean up costs involved.”
Cooper said the plan was to approach the soil storage carefully.
As for the facility’s aging fleet, he said, “We have a plan to systematically replace things and part of the capital budget this year and next year will help us replace that equipment. We have covered the situation but we will slowly recover to more up-to-date equipment.”
Council will consider the request at its budget meetings, which begin the week of Feb. 22.
Mehreen Shahid’s reporting is funded in part by the Local Journalism Initiative