Mark Dobbin is building a hangar for private planes at the St. John's airport. Here's why

Mark Dobbin is behind the development of a private airplane hangar that will be built at the St. John's International Airport. (Ted Dillion/CBC - image credit)
Mark Dobbin is behind the development of a private airplane hangar that will be built at the St. John's International Airport. (Ted Dillion/CBC - image credit)

A new hangar for private commercial jets is being built near the St. John's International Airport.

The COVID-19 pandemic hammered the global airline industry when it hit in early 2020, at one point reducing flight volumes at St. John's International Airport to a historic low, dropping to five per cent of normal traffic.

While traffic at the airport since then has recovered to about two-thirds of 2019 levels, the effects of the pandemic still linger, and officials say it will take time for a full rebound.

But Mark Dobbin, president and founder of Killick Capital and one of the people behind the new hangar development, says private travel is bucking the trend and has already bounced back with volumes in 2021 and 2022 above pre-pandemic levels.

"The business jet market, the corporate aircraft, saw significant flying volumes … so the demand is quite strong," Dobbin told CBC News.

In a statement the St. John's International Airport says about 10 per cent of its landings are private planes. With just over 12,000 flights landing last year, that means about 1,200 arrivals at the airport were private planes.

Dobbin says there are a number of reasons that private, corporate travel is seeing strong demand.

First, he said, there was a reduction in the number of commercial flights available during the pandemic, making charter flights more attractive for some people who needed to travel. Some people also perceived it as a safer option during the pandemic, he said.

Curits Hicks/CBC
Curits Hicks/CBC

Dobbin, whose father Craig is well known in the aviation industry for building Canadian Helicopters, said the development will be condo-style, in which individual companies will own or rent one of the hangar's five bays.

St. John's needs a private jet hangar, said Dobbin, because Newfoundland and Labrador is sometimes passed by when planes need to refuel on the way to Europe or when there's nowhere to store a plane in St. John's. He said he knows of instances when someone has flown to St. John's for business meetings but had to send the aircraft to Halifax or Gander because there wasn't room for it in St. John's.

"It's not so bad when it goes to Gander, but if it's got to go all the way back to Halifax, we're losing business out of the province," Dobbin said.

He also said the infrastructure will support the province's businesspeople who use private air travel to do work outside the province and executives who will visit to do business.

While flying privately will set you back a lot more than the cost of a commercial flight, Dobbin said, for those who can afford it, it's about saving time.

"It's more about the efficiencies and the economies of time rather than the economies of dollars."

Dobbin expects construction to be complete by mid-2024.

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