Airport improvement talks getting underway

July 26, 2018 – Tyler Kula, The Sarnia Observer

Sarnia-Lambton businesses are planning a shindig at the Sarnia Chris Hadfield Airport, hyping it as a community gateway and starting a brainstorming process into potential improvements.

The City of Sarnia and Sarnia-Lambton Chamber of Commerce, along with the Sarnia-Lambton Economic Partnership and airport operator Scottsdale Aviation, are teaming up for the Aug. 15 Business After 5 event inside a hangar at the airport.

“We’re trying to gather as many businesses together and show how the airport can help with their business,” said Daniel Byskal, assistant city solicitor and risk manager with the City of Sarnia.

City officials announced in April they were planning public input sessions to see how the airport could be improved.

Early ideas include runway improvements, a terminal refresh, and addressing last-minute flight cancellations that tend to stem from complications out of Toronto, officials have said.

The Chamber event is the first crack at that, Byskal said.

“We’re going to have multiple sessions; this is just the first kickoff.”

Air Canada will also be present at the networking event, he said.

It has scheduled service, via Air Georgian, with the two-runway Sarnia facility, owned by the city.

“They’re one of our main customers. We want to keep them happy,” Byskal said. “But first we need to figure out what will make them happy.”

Air Canada is expected to release a strategy for Southwestern Ontario airports around the end of August, or beginning of September, he said, noting it’s expected to include something to address last-minute flight cancellations at airports like Sarnia’s.

“Feedback we get from members of the public and business members is they’re not happy with the cancellation of flights,” Byskal said.

“That’s something that’s occurring across the province with airports all over Southwestern Ontario. So everyone is sort of in the same boat in terms of limited capacity, and Air Canada is going to be addressing that limited capacity.”

Air Georgian COO Julie Mailhot said in April investments in the Sarnia Airport could enhance flight schedule stability, and upgrades to instrument approach facilities and expanded de-icing fluid options could also help.

Inclement winter weather is the primary factor in flight cancellations, she said, when it leads authorities to reduce inbound traffic at Toronto Pearson.

The city is expected to spend up to $5,200 for the Business After 5 event, featuring a “behind the scenes” tour of the airport.

Chamber CEO Shirley de Silva called it the international gateway to Sarnia-Lambton, noting holding the Business After 5 event – open to chamber members and their guests – is a step in the right direction.

Meanwhile, the city recently announced radio beacon approach technology is being decommissioned at the airport, as per a Nav Canada aeronautical study.

It’s expected to have minimal effect as the industry is moving towards GPS navigation, Byskal said.

“If you’re flying in the clouds, you have to have GPS to get to the airport anyways,” he said. “So if you have GPS to get to the airport, you need GPS to actually land, and that’s what we’re retaining.”

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