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Simcoe County regional airports feeling financial pinch of pandemic


December 7, 2020
By Rick Vanderlinde, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Barrie Advance

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Editor’s note: This story was first published on Nov. 10, 2020

Simcoe County’s municipally-funded airports continue to operate during the pandemic, but fewer planes have touched down this year, creating a financial pinch.

The Lake Simcoe Regional Airport is weathering COVID-19 thanks to cross-border commercial air traffic. The airport, which is owned by the County of Simcoe and the City of Barrie, benefits from having Border Services agents on site.

But like many regional airports across the country, fewer passenger jets are using the runways at the Oro-Medonte airport.

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Huronia Airport in Tiny Township, which receives one-third of its funding from Tiny, Midland and Penetanguishene, saw a sharp reduction in plane traffic since COVID-19 appeared.

“One hit we took this year is fewer landing fees for commercial flights,” airport manager Adam Rigden said. “Normally we will get jets in here for a few months from the States, and none of that has happened. We’ve had virtually no jet traffic in here this year, at all.”

As an essential service, the small airport must stay open around the clock for emergency use by the OPP and the Ornge air ambulance.

Rigden said the small operation, which only has two full-time employees, isn’t eligible for any government emergency COVID-19 funding to offset loses.

Several regional airport associations are lobbying the federal government for financial aid to help small airports survive the pandemic.

The Regional Community Airports of Canada (RCAC) accuses the federal government of bailing out large airports in major cities while ignoring regional airports.

“Canada’s smaller airports have carried the financial burden of maintaining their runways, air terminals and emergency services without access to any previous or current financial aid,” the group said in a media release.

The RCAC recommends:

• Regional airports receive federal COVID assistance programs, such as emergency wage subsidy, debit relief and loans programs, and rent subsidy regardless of the ownership model.

• Stabilizing the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy for airports to not less than 75 per cent for 2021 to protect the employment capabilities of these airports.

Simcoe County Warden George Cornell told Simcoe.com the county is working with the area’s Conservative MPs to put pressure on the Liberal government.

“We appreciate the value of small airports, the role they play in our economy,” Cornell said. “We know our MPPs and MPs are supportive of our airports, and we continue to work with them to ensure our businesses across all sectors are receiving the support they require during this outbreak.”

Earlier this year, Cornell credited MPs Doug Shipley and John Brassard with ensuring Border Services agents remained at the Lake Simcoe Regional Airport.

Meanwhile, the Huronia Airport is operating on a tight budget and could use financial support as the pandemic continues, Rigden said.

The airport was expecting a boost this year by adding a restaurant that would have been operated by Georgian College co-op students. But the pandemic put a quick end to those plans, because the terminal has been shut down to the public.