June 16th, 2024

City optimistic about future of airport

By Tim Kalinowski on August 11, 2021.

Herald file photo - Passengers and ground crew move past planes outside the terminal at the Lethbridge Airport in 2019.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDtkalinowski@lethbridgeherald.com

City council passed both a business plan and governance model for the Lethbridge Airport during Tuesday’s public meeting. And while COVID-19 has slowed expected growth markedly over the last year, councillors still had a lot of optimism about the future and what this asset could become going forward.
“We have been through a rough patch with COVID-19,” Mayor Chris Spearman confirmed, “and airport volumes have dropped off. We need to rebuild confidence with the carriers, and we need to show our community is committed to using a viable airport.
“I think the reinvestments that are happening in the airport, $26 million in operational aspects and another $7 million on the airport facility itself, the terminal, will be important. And people will be impressed to see the improvements at the airport.”
In the resolution passed during Tuesday’s meeting councillors acknowledged they had possibly hoped to turn over the airport to a privately run airport authority; however a reduction in air travel due to the pandemic put a spike in those plans for the time being. The City will retain the airport as a department of city council for the next term. The YQL management team will remain as it is, with the Airport Manager reporting to the Director of Corporate and Customer Services.
The council-led Airport Committee will also be dissolved.
The business plan also had to change, confirmed Michael Kelly, general manager of Opportunity Lethbridge, from a focus on passenger numbers on airlines to a more diversified approach to airport development.
“Passenger traffic is very important,” Kelly stated. “Tourism is very important for Lethbridge and southern Alberta, but as we see with the economic situation we are in we need to diversify. And the land development component will add not only lease money coming in from land uses, but taxation money. Taxation money is very key because it can be utilized anywhere for our citizens.”
Getting the airport business plan and governance structure approval through council, (which passed by a vote of 7-1 with only Coun. Joe Mauro opposed), was Kelly’s last big effort as he heads toward retirement from the City of Lethbridge next week.
He said it has been a lot of work going back to 2016 to get things to this point, but he was confident council had placed the airport on a solid footing going forward.
“It gives a clear direction forward (for) investors, people at the airport today, our staff, our citizens, and future city councils,” he said. “It is incredibly satisfying to get this across the finish line. We have been working on this since 2016 when we first started having interactions with the county. We always saw this as an asset, an economic catalyst for southern Alberta.”

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