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Airport passenger numbers aren't good enough, councillor says

The airline industry is tough, and growing passenger traffic is hard. But at least one local politician says he’s still looking for the managers of the Hamilton airport to make good on their promise of a million passenger flights a year.

Passenger numbers for Hamilton International Airport decreased by 100,000 passengers since 2009

One councillor says the privatization of the John C. Munro Hamilton International Airport hasn't panned out as expected, including the year-over-year decrease in passenger flights.

The airline industry is tough, and growing passenger traffic is hard. But at least one local politician says he still expects the managers of the Hamilton airport to make good on their promise of a million passenger flights a year.

The passenger numbers for the John C. Munro Hamilton International Airport decreased by three per cent last year, and by 100,000 passengers since 2009. And while Coun. Chad Collins sympathizes with the challenges, the Ward 5 councillor says that’s not good enough.

"Everyone is cognizant that the industry has changed," he said. But "those numbers are too low and they need to go up."

Collins made the comments after a meeting of the city’s airport implementation task force on Monday. Councillors listened to an annual report from Frank Scremin, who is president and CEO of the airport's management company, TradePort.

Those numbers are too low and they need to go up.- Coun. Chad Collins

The airport saw an eight-per cent increase in cargo traffic in 2014, but its passenger numbers dwindled. In 2014, 332,378 passengers passed through the airport, compared to 341,470 the year before. That's a nearly 100,000 decrease from 2009, when the airport saw 431,282 passenger flights.

When TradePort took over operation of the airport in 1996, it pledged a million passenger flights out of Hamilton by 2010. And while the industry has changed since those estimates, the current numbers still aren’t good enough, Collins said.

“They’re discouraging. There’s no doubt about that,” he said. “We expected a lot more when we privatized in the mid to late 90s.”

Coun. Terry Whitehead of Ward 8 also sits on the task force. The numbers “concern me,” he said.

“Cargo is very important and I’m very happy we’re doing well on that side,” he said. But “it was always my vision to see this as a multifaceted airport.”

TradePort is always seeking out new carriers to boost Hamilton’s passenger and cargo traffic, Scremin said.

Most recently, the travel and leisure company NewLeaf did a test flight from Hamilton to Kelowna last week that had “fairly healthy” numbers, he said. TradePort has also approached the Vancouver-based budget airline Jetlines and new air charter specialists Enerjet.

Toronto’s island airport shows “what kind of difference one strategic carrier can make for an airport,” he said.

The city is nearly halfway through a 40-year lease with TradePort. Crews are building a new $12-million cargo terminal, which will open in May 2015. Cargojet is the anchor tenant.

The task force voted Monday for city staff to talk to the airport about its transit needs. The city is in the process of vying for part of a $15-billion provincial fund for transit in the GTHA, and $302 million for transit improvements.

But the airport hasn’t been involved in transit discussions since an LRT task force in 2007, Scremin said.

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