By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Chatham-Kent has inked a five-year deal to provide services at the municipal airport located near Charing Cross.
Council approved the $1,336,421 contract with Z3 Aviation at its June 28 meeting.
The move calls for an increase of $78,758 in the airport’s base budget with the increase to be included as part of next year’s budget deliberations.
Wallaceburg Coun. Carmen McGregor questioned why the deal had to be five years in length, stating that a one-year deal should be considered. McGregor said a year-long deal would be appropriate, as it would allow administration to explore other options, including privatization.
Thomas Kelly, general manager of infrastructure and engineering for Chatham-Kent, provided a synopsis of the annual usage of the airport, explaining a typical year amounts to about 7,000 hours, but due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, including closure of the border, usage was down to 4,000 hours in 2020.
In the past, Kelly said the municipal airport’s main customers have been RM Restorations and Enbridge, however, Enbridge is no longer involved.
He said, “The life blood of their success was based on that airport.”
Kelly told council a well-staffed municipal airport is a necessary component to attracting investment to Chatham-Kent.
He said privatization hasn’t been considered because the airport has proved to be key to the local economy and there’s new investment on the horizon.
He cited the recent sale of the Navistar property as an example, as its redevelopment may involve investors who need quick and easy access to Chatham.
“If you don’t have an airport where these large groups can fly into, you’re at a significant disadvantage,” Kelly told council.
Kelly also said there is an avid community of small plane pilots that regularly use the airport, adding many aviators also visit Chatham-Kent by air, bringing tourism dollars.
However, McGregor, who did not support the motion, said the Chatham-Kent airport is too small to support commercial traffic, adding most people flying in still need to access airports in Windsor or London.
The average annual subsidy to the airport from the municipality has been estimated at $219,000 currently, but that will rise to around $300,000 in 2022.