Thursday, November 16, 2017

Medicine Hat Airport closing for most of May

 The Medicine Hat airport will be closed completely for 24 days in May to rehabilitate the main runway and taxiway pavement surfaces.

The airport runway was built in 1964 and has not had a major resurfacing in more than 20 years, says a city press release announcing the project.

“The work is required and … we were presented with two terrible options,” said airport manager Jeff Huntus. “The final choice was predicated on the shortest possible disruption for the broader community.”

Closing the airport from May 7-31 will impact businesses operating at the airport, and one is considering legal action.

“You can’t take away our ability to generate income for basically a whole month …” said Terri Super, president of Super T Aviation. “We will consider legal action against the city. What other recourse do we have?”

There are two intersecting runways at the airport, and keeping one open was considered.

“We couldn’t create a scenario where we could get a runway longer than 2,800 feet usable,” said Huntus. “Our short runway is 2,800 feet, which is too short for the Air Canada flights and too short for the air ambulance (fixed-wing) contractor.

If the short runway is kept open for other aircraft, the project balloons from 24 to 49 days. And operating one runway during the day would have reduced construction activity to just night hours, said Huntus. Closing completely means the work can take place both night and day.

How the fixed-wing air ambulance program will operate during the closure is not yet known.

“We are working with our community partners to develop a plan that will maintain air ambulance support to the region during the closure,” said Darren Sandbeck, senior provincial director and chief paramedic, EMS.

The airport closure will be “harsh” for Integra Air, says CEO John Macek.

“We have 11 employees that depend on the fuel and the ramp service and I’ve got to pay them but there won’t be any money coming in at all,” said Macek, who estimates the financial loss at about $90,000.

He doesn’t think the city will get away with roadwork maintenance that completely blocks off access to some businesses, which he says will basically put them out of business.

If the shorter runway had been usable during the paving process, Integra would could have continued to operate scheduled flights to Edmonton using a King Air, said Macek.

For Super T Aviation, it will mean there will be no flight training or charter work, and no maintenance on other aircraft.

“Basically there will be no income coming in and all of our overhead and fixed costs will continue to be,” said Super.

If Super T laid pilots off they would simply accept another job some place else and the same applies to those in maintenance, said Super. She says telling people wanting to learn to fly that the business will be closed for most of May will have them looking for flight lessons somewhere else. People who would like to book a charter flight will also go elsewhere and perhaps continue to go there.

There are about 19,000 takeoffs and landings at the airport every year. Air Canada’s scheduled flights account for five a day and Integra Air’s account for two, said Huntus. Air Canada, as the major customer, represents 60 to 70 per cent of the airport’s operating revenue per year.

The loss of revenue for Air Canada and the air ambulance is a drop in the bucket compared to private companies like Integra and Super T, says Super.

While Air Canada may be contributing significantly to the operating revenue of the airport, companies such as Super T Aviation and Integra Air make a significant contribution to the whole community through charters, flight training and scheduled flights, she says.

A spokesperson for Air Canada says it will be offering customers the option of flying to Lethbridge if their final destination makes this a viable option.

Mayor Ted Clugston was not available for an interview on Wednesday. 

Original article can be found here ➤

No comments: