Golden Town Council votes unanimously to continue airport operations
Airport is one of hundreds of municipal airports being propped up by local governments
The small community of Golden, British Columbia has voted to save its aerodrome, despite projecting deficits for years to come.
Town council threw the municipally-owned facility’s future into doubt this summer when it launched a study of the airport’s future. The question was whether a little-used airfield without commercial service was the best use for the land.
The resounding answer from residents? Yes.
The town hired a consulting firm – HM Aero – to examine the facility’s future. In a survey of residents, the firm found the vast majority of respondents thought the value of the airport was ‘very important.’ Almost as many wanted to see the airport grow in the future. Only a handful of people, the survey found, wanted the airport closed.
“The Town will look to undertake modest and targeted improvements to strengthen the facilities position as an economic driver and improve its social benefits,” Golden mayor Ron Oszust wrote in an email. “And maybe most critically, we will initiate discussions with the [regional government] to establish a capital funding partnership that is consistent with the regional, social and economic importance of the Golden Airport. “
Golden Municipal Airport is an aerodrome with a single 1,300 metre runway. It is registered and appears in pilot documents, but the facility cannot accept scheduled commercial flights. That step takes a certificate from Transport Canada, which can be an expensive and time-consuming process.
The runway is nestled in a deep valley on the western edge of the Rockies, at the intersection of two visual flight routes through the mountains. And despite its small size, there are no other airports within 100 km. That makes Golden a vital fuel and safety stop for small aircraft passing through the region. Pilots rely on the airport as a safe landing spot if the weather in the mountains isn’t passable.
HM Aero found that the airport is not a big player when it comes to itinerant aircraft- only a few hundred planes a year arrive in the community from other cities.
But locally, the study found the airport generates jobs and opportunities for the town of 3,700 people.
Its search and rescue operation is the second-largest in the province, after the Vancouver area. Some 15 back country lodges rely on helicopter operations from Golden. It’s enough for the airport to support 13 full-time jobs and generate $3 million in economic benefits, the report found.
But the airport faces numerous challenges in the next few years. Most of them revolve around money.
The airport has not come close to breaking even in the past five years. Since 2017, the airport has racked up deficits totalling more than $187,000, split between the town and the regional government. HM Aero projects that even with landing fees and land development around the airport, deficits be around $50,000 a year for the next 20 years.
The consultants say the subsidy is “typical of municipally owned airports in Canada that fulfill the socioeconomic needs of their region.”
Then there’s the infrastructure. The runway, taxiways and aprons are in fair to poor shape and need work. Navigation aids need repair. Water and sewer lines need to be upgraded. And the terminal building will need replacement. It all adds up.
“These projects are recommended to be phased over the next 20 years with a total estimated cost of $3,922,000,” the consultants found. They held out hope a provincial programme could help pay the bills, along with unspecified private funding.
Hopes fade for scheduled service
The report also puts to rest any ambitions the community had for scheduled services. The airport’s current status, said the consultants, is “deemed to be the most reasonable approach from a federal regulatory standpoint given the site constraints, potential costs to certify the facility, and resources available within the Town.”
On top of that, the pandemic means airlines aren’t looking for new opportunities, the report found. “Specifically, the drawdown of regional air services and post-COVID network plans by carriers such as Air Canada may reduce the justification for pursuing scheduled passenger air services,” said the authors.
In recent month, both Air Canada and Westjet have cut regional services, leaving smaller airports scrambling to pay the bills.
The consultants found that Golden would be better off concentrating on charter flights. They suggested an airport manager role would help attracting new business and ‘champion’ the airport.
It was a convincing enough argument for council to vote unanimously to keep the facility open.
“Personally, I am happy with the decision and the direction and I look forward to the Strategic and Tactical Plan from HM Aero,” said the Mayor. “They did an amazing job on the report and Council was quite impressed.”
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