A Sudbury airport official says the operation is trying to keep customers flying out of Sudbury, instead of driving to airports in the south.

After three years of soaring gains, passenger numbers at the Greater Sudbury airport have leveled off — something Bob Johnston knew would eventually happen.

The Greater Sudbury Airport said when Porter first flew in to Sudbury in 2010, it whipped up big competition, driving prices to places like Toronto way down. Sudbury’s airport saw an increase of close to 100,000 passengers in three years.

'It's a major challenge for us...'—Sault Ste. Marie airport CEO Terry Bos

That was a whopping 72 per cent increase, Johnston said, but now the novelty of the Porter brand has worn off a little, and the economy is down. As a result, the Sudbury airport now has to work hard to keep cross-border and international travellers booking the first leg of their trips out of Sudbury instead of driving to Toronto.

"We see up to 70, 80 per cent of our customers that could fly out of Sudbury will start their trip out of Toronto," he said.

Some folks drive to Toronto to save some cash, while others do so to avoid airport layovers.

In the airport industry, the practice of leaving a local city airport to fly from another is called "leakage."

For the airport in Sault Ste. Marie, leakage is even worse.

"It's a major challenge for us, especially being a border city," said Sault airport CEO Terry Bos, who noted it's hard to compete with cheap American ticket prices next door.

To help regional airports keep ticket prices down, Bos said he wants the federal government to rethink the airport tax rates.