Regional airports get multimillion-dollar fed funding boost

Off the travel radar for most of the pandemic, Kingston Airport is clearing the runway for traffic to resume in earnest after landing a $1.3-million federal grant.

The cash is part of a total $2.8-million package of non-repayable contributions from the federal government for airports in southeastern Ontario, including terminals in Kingston, Cornwall and Arnprior.

The Kingston Airport will receive $1.3 million to help it launch air service to Montreal via Pascan Aviation, which will begin twice-daily service to Montreal-Trudeau International Airport on Sept. 21. 

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The funding will go toward assisting the carrier with costs like baggage-handling fees, signage and other expenses as well as hiring increased security and service staff at the terminal.

Airport manager Aron Winterstein said about 18,000 passengers are expected to use Pascan’s service by the end of the year, helping revive a facility that drew more than 75,000 travellers annually before the pandemic effectively grounded its operations. 

The Kingston Airport was renovated in 2019 to expand the terminal and increase its number of passengers. But it lost its air connections when Air Canada halted its daily flights to Toronto’s Pearson International Airport the following March. 

A small commuter carrier, FLYGTA Airlines, has operated eight flights a week from Kingston to Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport since February, but only about 200 passengers have used its eight-seater aircraft so far.

“It’s been really catastrophic,” Winterstein said of the pandemic’s impact on the airport. “COVID hit the tourism and the airline market especially hard, but it was even disproportionately so towards smaller airports like ours.” 

Kingston Chamber of Commerce CEO Karen Cross called the resumption of air service a “godsend” for the city’s business community.

“COVID hit the tourism and the airline market especially hard, but it was even disproportionately so towards smaller airports like ours.”

“It’s multi-faceted, the number of businesses that this is going to support,” she said.

Winterstein said the airport projects passenger traffic will reach about 50 per cent of pre-pandemic levels by next summer, adding the facility likely won’t return to its 2019 numbers until 2023.

Still, he said he’s hopeful that the Kingston-Montreal routes will prove popular enough to prompt a carrier to resume flights to Pearson in the near future. Down the road, he’d like to see Kingston add a connection to a nearby U.S. destination such as Syracuse, N.Y. 

“Air service is integral for bringing in tourism and being able to keep and attract new business,” Winterstein said. “As we see demand, we’ll be looking to increase (flight) frequencies to be the same or hopefully more than what we had pre-pandemic.”

Cross agreed that air travel is essential for “easing some of the barriers” her members face when trying to do business with clients in other cities.

“We just need to build that traffic back, and then the horizons are boundless,” she said.

Meanwhile, Cornwall Regional Airport will receive more than $1.1 million to adapt existing facilities, including funding for a new terminal design, electrical upgrades, runway lighting and security camera installations.

Flight training facility

The airport supports regional air travel across the Stormont Dundas Glengarry region and services Cornwall Aviation, a flight training facility for pilots from Canada and around the world.

“This contribution will assist with ongoing investment to ensure future growth at the Cornwall Regional Airport,” said Mayor Lyle Warden of the Township of South Glengarry, who is also vice-chair of the Cornwall Regional Airport Commission.

The Arnprior Airport will receive $47,500 to sustain critical regional air operations and services by adding a video security system to provide 24/7 surveillance as well as an automated fuelling system.

“The RATI funds we are receiving will contribute to maintenance and upgrades, ensuring regional air traffic has 24/7 unrestricted access to fuel and essential airport services,” said Johnny Constantinesco, chair of the Arnprior Airport Commission. 

“The Arnprior Airport serves one of the fastest-growing areas in Eastern Ontario and the RATI investment provides a boost to the critical infrastructure required to support and sustain regional air traffic.”

Arnprior Airport offers facilities for both land and sea planes as well as a parachute training and development facility and pilot training and aircraft maintenance engineer services.

In addition, the Huronia Airport in the Georgian Bay area will receive $310,000. 

The funding comes through the $206-million national Regional Air Transportation Initiative.

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