The Stratford municipal airport was a topic of debate at the August 14th City Council meeting as the council grappled with its financial sustainability. The airport, facing an anticipated annual operating deficit of nearly $300,000, has split support in the decision to keep the airport and try to make it revenue-neutral over the next decade.
Stratford council members were presented with several options regarding the future of the airport. With a narrow margin of 7-4, Councillors decided to embrace Option 3 as outlined in the 2023 Stratford Municipal Airport Study. This option opts for the continuation of municipal airport ownership.
Though favoured by a majority of councillors, the decision was not without its share of disagreement. Councillor Lary McCabe noted his stance on the retention of the airport, stating, "We have some really serious decisions about what we need to fund in the city. We can save 13 to 14 million, which we can put towards things like the Grand Trunk site."
Councillor McCabe also acknowledged the importance of the choices on the table, stating, "We're going to have to make decisions that are hard, and I think this is one of those decisions."
An in-depth study conducted by HM Aero Inc., which assessed the airport's financial viability earlier this year, noted that the airport is currently not self-sustaining. Yet, it did show support for a possible at a possible turnaround. By adopting a proactive approach to business development, the airport could see an increase in its operating revenue, according to the findings.
Mayor Martin Ritsma voiced his support for retaining ownership of the municipal airport, noting his belief that there is potential for it to become a self-sustaining entity. Mayor Ritsma said, "I firmly believe that [the airport] is an asset the city should retain. I believe there are opportunities for the airport to become a revenue-neutral investment. I really do believe that."
Mayor Ritsma also underscored the value of the services provided by the airport, emphasizing that certain benefits are not to be disregarded, “I also believe that there are services provided at the airport that we truly can't quantify with a dollar figure, and I wouldn't want to lose those.” He cautioned against making quick decisions to sell, stating, "If you divest, you don't know what that facility will become. You don't know whether it will be retained as an airport."
He also advocated for a collaborative effort to maximize the airport's revenue potential while minimizing the burden on taxpayers, “I'd rather work with the airport and come to an understanding that we would like it to be as revenue-neutral as possible and retain [the airport] without the burden on our taxpayers as it currently is.”
Councillor Taylor Briscoe initially called for a reconsideration of the decision within a two-year timeframe. However, this proposal was later retracted in support of Councillor Cody Sebben, agreeing that the decision required further evaluation in future budget discussions and that a timeline was unnecessary.
Amanda Modaragamage, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Stratford Times