Nenshi fears federal 'fire sale' of Canada's airports

Calgary's mayor is raising fears of a federal 'fire sale' of Canada's biggest airports. There are reports the federal government may sell eight airports, putting them into private ownership.

Report suggests Ottawa could bank up to $16B from selling country's biggest airports

Mayor Naheed Nenshi fears what a federal sale of Canada's biggest airports could mean both in terms of money, for airport operators and for travellers. (CBC)

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi isn't keen on the possibility of the federal government selling off the Calgary International Airport (YYC) to a private owner.

There are reports the Trudeau government is looking at selling Canada's eight largest airports. According to the C.D. Howe Institute, the sale could net the government between $7.2 and $16.6 billion. 

One possible destination for the proceeds could be infrastructure projects.

Airports like YYC are run by non-profit airport authorities, which oppose selling the facilities to private ownership.

Only two outcomes, says mayor

Naheed Nenshi said the non-profit operators pay millions in rent to Ottawa. He fears that with private owners, one of two things will happen with those rents

"The only way a sale makes sense is if the buyer either pays way more than the value of those rents, which means the rent has to go up for them to make any money, or they keep the rents the same — which just means they pay less than the value of the rent and you've got a fire sale," said Nenshi.

He's encouraging the federal government to talk with the current operators of the airports about the issue.

"If the federal government needs the cash, they really have to make sure the math works. And if they need the cash, it's better to borrow against the future cash flows rather than sell assets at a discount," said Nenshi. 

Canada airport policy unique

In its report, the C.D. Howe Institute states Canada is the only country in the world that has its largest airports operated by non-profit airport authorities.

It says unlocking the value in those airports could lower costs for air travellers and give Ottawa money for other projects.

In opposing a sale, the Calgary Airport Authority (CAA) said a sell-off would actually increase costs for travellers and remove local input on airports boards. The CAA also said it re-invests money into its facilities.

It has joined forces with other airport authorities to lobby against a sale, even launching a website: