Stephenville channels its airport envy in attempt to woo west coast travellers

"There are 100,000 passengers for the taking here, so what airline wants it?"

Mayor Tom Rose says the small airport has a lot going for it

The mayor of Stephenville says it's time for the airport to up its game. (Stephenville Airport/Facebook)

The mayor of Stephenville insists better days are on the horizon for his town's airport as a renewed effort is underway to attract more passengers and airlines. 

"It's time now for Stephenville to get in the game," said Mayor Tom Rose.

"We were in the game before … [but] when you look at the flow of how people come into western Newfoundland, it's working great for Deer Lake. It's not working great for Stephenville."

The departures area of Stephenville airport isn't as busy as it once was. (Twitter/@DaBuins77)

The numbers for 2017 show just how great the divide actually is: Stephenville recorded about 6,000 people moving through its airport, compared with 400,000 passengers at Deer Lake.

"I want to go back after the passengers from this region that are flying out of Deer Lake," Rose told CBC's Corner Brook Morning Show. 

"Who from Port aux Basques or Stephenville or Burgeo or Cape St. George wants to bypass Stephenville, drive to Deer Lake in six months of winter and six months of moose? Nobody does."

What's already working

The Stephenville Airport Corporation just finished a recruitment effort to attract volunteers — with experience in finance, marketing, public relation and other fields — to serve on its board of directors for a three-year term. 

Rose said fresh faces with a variety of strengths will help with a revitalization, but the airport isn't starting from Square 1. 

Stephenville Mayor Tom Rose is a former air traffic controller. (Tom Rose/Facebook)

"Stephenville has a diverse economic stream … [and] can handle any aircraft that flies," he said. 

"Stephenville sits right below high level air routes for North Atlantic traffic. So we are a safe haven — we're a 10,000-by-200-foot runway with overruns."

Equipment upgrades

NAV Canada recently announced $1 million worth of updated equipment that will let the facility remain as an emergency or alternative landing site for transatlantic flights. Several large aircraft have landed at the Stephenville Airport over the last several months.

But, said Rose, other strides have been made, too.

Two weeks ago, Porter announced it is doubling the number of flights between Halifax and Stephenville for its spring and fall service. 

"We are ready to begin our fifth year of service in Stephenville with more flights than ever," Porter Airlines president and CEO Robert Deluce said in a media release at the time. 

"This area of the province deserves more service, and we believe people will respond to having options during the most popular times of year."

An American Airlines Boeing 777 made an emergency landing at Stephenville Airport in October, after the pilot noticed a cracked windshield. (Courtesy Sammie White)

Rose, who is a former air traffic controller and is passionate about the aviation field, hopes to build on that momentum.

"There are 100,000 passengers for the taking here, so what airline wants it?" said Rose. 

"If somebody puts a jet into Stephenville … people from western Newfoundland will come to Stephenville to get on that flight. No question about it."

With files from Corner Brook Morning Show