December 3, 2021 By Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Walkerton Herald Times
WALKERTON — A group of people has expressed interest in buying Saugeen Municipal Airport (SMA), for the purpose of operating it as an airport on a financially viable basis.
The group, consisting of Walkerton businessman Darren Holm, his brother Todd Holm and his landlord Sam Bacher, recently made a presentation to Hanover council about purchasing the airport. In stating their case for private ownership of the airport, they promised to run SMA as an airport for 10 years. They have yet to make presentations to West Grey and Brockton councils.
When asked about the short length of time (10 years), Holm referred to Canada’s intention to reduce carbon emissions and get rid of internal combustion engines in vehicles — this could have an impact on airplanes.
“We can make it profitable,” Holm said in an interview about the group’s plans for the airport. “We can make it stand on its own two feet.” He spoke of a combination of investing in the kind of infrastructure at the airport — things like automated grounds maintenance — that would drastically reduce operating costs, and some new airport-related development.
Holm also spoke of problems with the way the airport is presently being operated, as a partnership of three municipalities — Hanover, West Grey and Brockton. “It’s being run on a shoestring,” Holm said. “The taxpayers will not support additional investment in it.”
He went on to say that he thinks the airport “is in trouble, but it can be fixed” by having private owners with the resources to make necessary investments.
In his presentation to Hanover council, Holm referred to a $171,000 deficit — a number that the mayor and council took issue with, saying $150,000 of that was the “municipal contribution.”
This year, Hanover Coun. Dave Hocking, who represents that municipality on the airport commission, predicted a $35,000 surplus. Holm said he takes issue with this figure. By his calculations, “it looks like a deficit again.” Holm has copies of financial documents presented at airport commission meetings.
Holm said his group questions a number of things in the airport’s financials. One is the amount pilots pay for hangars. A few own the land and building, and pay taxes and access fees; most either lease the land or rent hangars. Holm said he’d like to see a more equitable rental fee structure, for starters.
He also takes issue with the fuel pricing and the airport’s management contract.
He said that if his group ends up negotiating a good price for the airport and purchases it, the priorities will be “creating efficiencies and getting spending under control — and keeping the pilots happy.”
Holm is the owner and operator of Holm Graphics in Walkerton. He has a diverse background in aviation and health care as a paramedic and respiratory therapist who operated his own air ambulance service in California.