Consultant’s report says Sarnia should sell Chris Hadfield Airport

Sarnia's Chris Hadfield Airport. April 18, 2018. (Video by Colin Gowdy, BlackburnNews)

A team of Toronto consultants is recommending the sale of Sarnia’s Chris Hadfield Airport.

An economic development strategy prepared for the city by MDB Insight said the airport should be divested and money from the sale should flow to other assets, because the airport’s potential to contribute to the city’s economic prosperity over the next several decades is low.

Mayor Mike Bradley disagrees with the report’s conclusion.

He said the airport is critical to economic development, both locally and regionally.

“In general terms a lot of the recommendations from the consultant to the city on economic strategies for the harbour and other areas I agree with. I think they’re progressive, I think they’re innovative, which is what we need,” said Bradley. “On the airport, I disagree. It is an asset to the city and the people of the city. Yes, it’s been difficult with Air Canada pulling back out, but I believe it needs to function and we need to look at how can we revitalize it.”

Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley gives his state of the city address to Sarnia's Seaway Kiwanis Club. January 8, 2019 Photo by Melanie Irwin

Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley gives his state of the city address to Sarnia’s Seaway Kiwanis Club.

Air Canada ended its service to Sarnia in July.

Bradley said the city needs to look more at the private sector and other airlines that can come here.

“In places that have lost their Air Canada service, like us, they have got smaller airlines operating out of their places to Toronto, in a very difficult economy, but it’s working. So, we need to look at that.”

Bradley credited the airport operator, Clare Webb, for its past success.

“Most airports are heavily subsidized by the local community,” said Bradley. “In our case, with the deal we had with Scottsdale, they took care of those costs and they operated the airport. As the private sector, they did it better than we could. So, I think we need to reinvent that deal. We need to look at how we can sustain the airport, sustain city control in years ahead and I think all Ontarians know, when you start to sell off private assets, you never get back the value.”

Scottsdale Aviation combined revenue from running Huron Aviation with pandemic relief funding to stay open until the end of August and has asked the city for help to continue its lease.

“I think the city, as we have helped the Sting and we’ve helped other organizations, and I believe the marina is going to be asking for some assistance because of COVID, we need to look at how we can keep the airport going.”

Scottsdale’s contract to run the airport expires in June 2027.

A total of six city-owned assets were analyzed in the economic development strategy.

Consultants also recommend making Sarnia’s research and business parks a higher priority, improving the waterfront and harbour operations, and continuing operation of the Andrew S. Brandt Marina as normal.

The report will be discussed at Sarnia council’s Strategic Priority Session on September 21.