City of Lethbridge to take on airport, hopes to compete internationally
Move lets city apply for provincial, federal dollars to upgrade facility
New opportunities for expansion and growth are on the horizon for the Lethbridge Airport, city officials are hoping.
On June 1 Lethbridge County will transfer ownership of the airport to the City of Lethbridge, a move officials in the region hope will allow the airport to compete at the international level.
The airport has been under county ownership for more than 20 years.
Transferring the airport's ownership is important because the city, unlike the county, can apply for matching government grants, Lethbridge Mayor Chris Spearman said on Friday.
"Thirty million dollars have been identified for airport upgrades, so our challenge now is to approach the provincial and federal government for funding opportunities to lengthen the runways and modernize the terminal," he said.
This type of investment will help local businesses compete with places such as Calgary when it comes to delivering goods within a day, he said.
"That can't happen right now if we have to bus everything to Calgary or ship everything to Calgary before it gets flown out to the world market," Spearman said.
"If we want to attract world class companies here that are exporting all over the world, we have to be able to fly out of Lethbridge and ship out of Lethbridge."
Calgary is more than 200 kilometres northwest of Lethbridge.
Lethbridge County Reeve Lorne Hickey said the fact that the city has more financial avenues available made the decision an easy one for the county.
"Ninety to 95 per cent of the business at the airport came from the City of Lethbridge. As a county with a smaller base population, we don't have quite the access to the funding that the city will have," he said.
"If you look at certain grants, they're based on population, so we'd be much better off to have those grants come out of funds that are more accessible to the city than the county."
A 2016 airport study, commissioned jointly by the county and the city, recommended that the two parties negotiate a new ownership structure and implement a new governance model.
The study also recommended preparing an airport master plan, which is currently being developed.
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