The Newfoundland and Labrador government must get creative in supporting the Stephenville airport, says a provincial politician calling for more taxpayer dollars to be diverted toward it.
Tony Wakeham, the Opposition member of the House of Assembly for Stephenville-Port au Port, spoke earlier this month at the provincial legislature about the airport's importance and how the government can help ensure its future viability.
On April 4, the legislature voted to extend a $900,000 provincial loan guarantee for another year for the beleaguered airport. But Wakeham said he wants more provincial support beyond the loan guarantee.
"Stephenville airport will not survive simply on commercial traffic," Tony Wakeham told CBC News.
Commercial traffic is meagre at the airport.
There has been no scheduled passenger service to or from Stephenville since January 2020, although Sunwing has announced a weekly summer service to Toronto set to begin in late June. A proposed deal to sell the airport to a private company, announced in September, has also not yet materialized.
''Better bang' for the buck
In February, the Stephenville Airport Corporation wrote the provincial government requesting funding.
That letter referenced $1 million in grants split between airports in Gander, Deer Lake and St. John's to enhance routes. Stephenville did not receive any cash.
Premier Andrew Furey said Stephenville didn't apply for the funding, but airport chair Trevor Murphy later contended they did not know of any way to apply and heard about it only after the fact.
In the wake of that, Wakeham said there's more the province can do. He says government-funded air travel needs to be analyzed to see if there's a possibility of more of those flights going to and from Stephenville.
"If government is already spending money on airlines because of their travel anyway, then find a better way to do it," he said.
"We're talking about money government's already spending, and trying to get a better bang for that dollar, by setting up a standing-offer agreement with airlines and then, if there's excess capacity on those airlines, the airlines themselves can sell tickets to private consumers who also need to travel."
He also stressed the importance of the airport when it comes to air ambulance flights and the use of Stephenville as an alternate runway to other airports.
"I think it's about ensuring government doesn't forget the value that the Stephenville airport can have for the province and for the people of the province," he said.
Private sector hopes
Scott Reid, the Liberal MHA for St. George's-Humber, said he recognizes the importance of the airport to the entire southwest coast of Newfoundland.
He said there may be more opportunities for funding within government to help the airport.
"I think there's still opportunity to work with government officials within the Department of Industry to look at opportunities there that can help the airport get through this time," he said.
Diversification may be the key to the airport's survival, Reid said, pointing to tourism, industrial development, manufacturing and training may be areas of potential growth.
"I'm a big believer in the private sector and if there are other opportunities there, I think private sector involvement will explore those opportunities that exist in a very vigorous way and I'm hopeful that that will bear some fruit in the future as well," he said.
The deal to sell the airport to the Dymond Group of Companies was initially expected to close in December but has not yet been finalized.