By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
After a two-year pandemic slowdown, the Chatham-Kent Municipal Airport is poised for growth this season.
The construction of two new private corporate hangars, the addition of a café in June, and the extension of the runway are among the new projects in the works.
An information report to council Monday night by airport manager Marion Smith outlined the proposed changes, giving councillors an inside look at what goes on at the airport on a daily basis.
According to Smith, the municipality’s airport is coming up on an exciting year.
“We are growing,” said Smith, noting other special events are percolating. “We’re looking forward to this year very much.”
The report to council indicated that flights to Toronto were to be added in 2022, but Smith said the item has been pulled from the budget.
Billed as the most southern certified airport in Canada, Chatham-Kent’s airport facilitates flights associated with emergencies, in addition to private and corporate flights.
Smith said the airport provides residents with access to medical airlifts through companies such as ORNGE, as well as charity organization such as Hope Air.
Search and Rescue teams, including the Canadian Coast Guard, also use the airport on a regular basis, she added.
Other ongoing events include the Air Cadet Gliding program, which draws in around 500 participating youth. Another initiative sees the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association (COPA) give rides to about 200 youngsters annually.
Other groups such as Girl Guides are also hosted at the airport.
Prior to the pandemic, numbers were steady with more than 6,000 aircraft movements annually for the three years leading up to 2020, peaking in 2018 with 6,727.
That dropped to 4,001 in 2020, but rebounded to 5,536 in 2021.
In 2021, Chatham-Kent council inked a $1,336,421, five-year deal with Z3 Aviation, the contractor that operates the airport.
The 2021 expenditure called for a spending increase of $78,758 as part of the base budget.
The average annual subsidy to the airport from the municipality has been estimated at $219,000, but was expected to rise to about $300,000 in 2021.
Smith said organizers are also hoping to get a new flight school off the ground this year and are presently looking for an aircraft to use in the program.