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‘Biggest project in Sault airport’s history’ will modernize runways, continue medical flights

'Hopefully we'll come roaring back,' airport president Terry Bos says
20190826-Terry Sheehan and Terry Bos SSMADC-DT
Sault MP Terry Sheehan and Terry Bos, Sault Ste. Marie Airport Development Corporation (SSMADC) president and CEO, Aug. 26, 2019. Darren Taylor/SooToday

The Sault Ste. Marie Airport Development Corporation (SSMADC) is celebrating federal government funding for what Terry Bos, the airport’s president and CEO, hailed as “the biggest project in the history of the airport.”

Sault MP Terry Sheehan announced over $9 million in funding from Transport Canada’s Airport Capital Assistance Program (ACAP) via Zoom Thursday for infrastructure improvements and an equipment purchase for the airport. 

$4.8 million, set aside from the Sault Airport’s own capital budget, provides a total of $13.8 million to carry out the infrastructure projects, said Jerry Dolcetti, SSMADC board of directors chair.

Apart from the airport being an economic driver for the Sault, Bos said it is vital for health and safety.

“There has been a very large increase in the number of medical evacuation flights that have been in and out of our airport since this pandemic has gone on.”

“We’re certainly looking forward to carrying this (infrastructure renewal) out,” Bos said.

“Since our ownership (began) in 1998 we’ve spent almost $45 million on airport improvements, capital improvements, so adding almost $14 million more on to that...(represents) a pretty significant amount of work to be done.”

“It is a major project, renewing our crossway runway, associated taxiways, all new lighting, signage upgrades, some safety upgrades as well as some operational savings in the fact that we’re going to somewhat narrow the runway, but also we’re going to new hi-tech LED lighting in order to reduce operational costs,” Bos said.

The narrowing of the runway, Bos told reporters, will not limit the size of planes that can land at the airport.

“We have one of the more wide runways in the entire country, especially for regional-sized airports, so there will be no limiting factor whatsoever. It’s basically the new standard we’re going to.”

“The rehabilitation of the pavement will include narrowing the runway from 60 metres to 45 metres to be compliant (with federal government standards),” a release states.

“As well...we have a combo spreader for work that needs to be done in regards to winter maintenance. We have a combo spreader that we purchased that comes to roughly $100,000,” Bos said.

The government funding over the next two years, Bos said, “is greatly needed. It’s a great benefit to us and we’re extremely happy to be carrying out this project. The timing is somewhat good in the fact that commercial traffic right now is down so there’ll be a little less impact on travellers while we do this work.”

It is anticipated work will get underway in June, Bos said.

“Hopefully once the work is done by September we’ll come roaring back and be able to fit many more aircraft than we used to.”

“We are in our twenty-third year of ownership and as operator of the airport. This achievement could not have been accomplished without the continued partnership with all levels of government. Today is historic for the airport, receiving $9 million in funding from ACAP to assist in advancing much needed infrastructure improvements,” SSMADC board chair Dolcetti said.

“At the airport, this will enhance passenger safety and travel. We have been successful in keeping the airport open during this pandemic and we are optimistic that once we get back to somewhat normal, whenever that’s going to be, our passenger levels will return over time,” Dolcetti added.

Federal funding in the amount of $2,717,000 will go toward the Sault Ste. Marie Airport Drainage Rehabilitation Project this year, along with an additional $6,249,718 for the airport’s Runway 4-22 and Associated Taxiways Rehabilitation (2nd runway) project.  

That tallies up to $8,966,913 the Sault Airport will receive for rehabilitation projects.

In addition, APAC put over $60,000 toward the purchase of the new material combo spreader for the airport (necessary for deicing), SSMADC covering the rest of the $100,00 cost for that item.

“We know that we need to be ready. This will improve our airport even more than the improvements that they already have had (through past federal funding announcements),” Sheehan said.

Sheehan said funding will also go to other Northern Ontario airports for their operations.

The pandemic, while ravaging the civil aviation industry and airports across Canada, does not seem to have had an overly serious effect on staffing at the Sault Airport, Bos told SooToday.

“Early on in the process, last April or May, we did reduce our staffing levels to some degree. The majority of it was this winter, not bringing back our seasonal employees. There were a couple of retirements and a few term employees that we were no longer able to keep on, but all our full time staff have been maintained. We kept them through last winter and we’ve kept them through this summer.”

“Obviously, if we get back to a position where traffic gets back up to 215,000 passengers a year like it used to be there will be a need to increase our staffing in the future. At this point though, we don’t have any increases in staff planned, but certainly we are prepared to move in whatever direction comes about from this pandemic, but all our full time staff are still here,” Bos said.

ACAP was launched in 1995.

Since then, Sheehan said, the federal government has invested more than $1.1 billion at 199 airports across the country.

The MP said the government, recognizing the impact COVID-19 has had on airports, is making an additional $186 million available through ACAP, increasing its annual program budget by almost 250 per cent over the next two years.

The funding from the federal government for the Sault Airport is part of a larger pot of money set aside for 86 projects at 63 airports selected for funding in 2021, Sheehan said.