Future of Sarnia’s airport up in the air

The sign in front of Sarnia's Chris Hadfield Airport. (Photo from the City of Sarnia's facebook page)

The future of Sarnia’s Chris Hadfield Airport is up in the air.

City councillors had mixed opinions during a special meeting Monday that considered a report compiled by MDB Insight.

The Toronto consultant recommends the city divest itself of the airport and use proceeds from the sale to bolster other assets, like the waterfront, harbour, and research and business parks.

Councillor Mike Stark said he wants to look at alternative uses for the property.

He said a lot of communities, without airports, rely on sites an hour away, just like Sarnia does with London.

“The sad reality is we are a medium-sized city, we need to realize the limitations of our size and in my view, given the fact that we now have an exodus from the city of national and international heads of companies, it behooves us to be starting to look at what utilization of this particular asset is most appropriate for the city,” said Stark.  “I’m inclined to think that we should not be divesting ourselves of this particular asset, but rather, we should be converting it and using it as a light industrial complex, similar to what we have across the way but it has a much better access point to Highway 402.”

Councillor Margaret Bird said the city could partner with Lambton College and offer an aviation mechanic and technologist program to keep it open.

“Any one of the pilots coming into Sarnia airport, if they need something fixed, mended, created or whatever, I believe they have to go to London,” said Bird. “We don’t have anything here for that. So, there’s an opportunity to connect.”

Bird said connections from the airport to other assets need to improve.

“I would never vote for Sarnia airport to be sold or made into something else. We desperately need that airport. It has the history, it has the future and it has the desperately needed transportation.”

Councillor Brian White said if the city is going to take on the airport’s operating costs they need a plan.

“I’m not suggesting we sell this thing off tomorrow,” said White. “But, to me, a half-a-million dollars per year of taxpayers money to keep this thing afloat as is, creates a real sense of urgency in my opinion.”

Mayor Mike Bradley said the city should be looking at a three-to-five-year action plan to see what can be done to turn it around before looking at a sale to a third party.

Staff recommendations from the consultant’s report will be considered on October 5.

It’s also recommended Sarnia elevate its economic development service by creating a new position within the CAO’s office.