Airport closure likely to be a financial boon

It would cost more than a million dollars a year to keep City Centre Airport running, whereas closing it could bring in hundreds of millions in net revenue, CBC News calculates.

It would cost more than a million dollars a year to keep Edmonton's City Centre Airport running, whereas closing the facility could bring in hundreds of millions in net revenue, according to rough calculations by CBC News.

What to do with Edmonton's City Centre Airport has been fervently debated for decades. ((CBC))

The debate over the future of the downtown airfield has raised questions about whether the city should proceed with a gradual shutdown, as was initiated by council last year, and what can be done with 215-hectare site.

The cost factor, however, has largely been missing from discussions.

Airport officials said the average operating cost is $2.5 million a year, offset by $2.5 million a year in revenue, including from leases. But loan repayments and capital upgrades bring the net loss to $1.3 million a year.

Shutting down the City Centre, on the other hand, could bring in a bonanza from selling or leasing the lands — officials estimate anywhere from $91 million to $486 million in net revenue.

Possible soil contamination

But the land would have to be cleaned up first, and that may require intense work, according to a pilot.

"When the mechanics would work on an airplane, drain the fuel, the hydraulic fluid, battery acid, oil and so on, they would spray that all over the grass and the infield for weed control," said Terry Champion, an aviator from St. Albert who spoke at an open house put on by Envision Edmonton, the group trying to keep the airport open. "Went on for decades and decades."

Like many others, Champion worries about what could be lurking in the soil underneath.

The city has already started taking samples, but is uncertain what's under ground, and the price to clean it up.

Similar airports have been shut down in Colorado and Texas, and clean-up costs there ranged from $30 million to $75 million.

The downtown air hub closed one of its two runways earlier this month as part of the first phase of its closure.

Envision Edmonton still hopes to fend off its demise, however, and has launched a petition to have the matter put to a plebiscite in the fall municipal elections.