Nfld. & Labrador

Stephenville council approves cash for private company to manage airport

The town voted Monday to spend $223,000 to bridge a funding gap and bring in a private Winnipeg company to retool the beleaguered airport.

Council already voted once against financing Winnipeg company's involvement

Mayor Tom Rose says the municipal funding approved Monday will largely be repaid by the province. (Tom Rose/Facebook)

Stephenville's town council voted Monday to spend $223,000 to hire a private company to try to bring its beleaguered airport back from the brink.

The vote was on a proposed management contract between Stephenville's airport authority and Winnipeg Airport Services Corporation, a company that provides an array of aviation services to Canadian airports from Kamloops to Iqaluit. Its CEO reached out to Stephenville council in November, said the town's mayor, with meetings and discussions culminating in the proposed plan.

The funding matter came up at its last public meeting June 4, and was defeated by a 4-3 vote. Following several subsequent private meetings, on Monday the nays recanted and the motion passed unanimously.

"Having unanimous support shows that we as a council are working together. We're going to move this file forward," said Mayor Tom Rose at the meeting which took place via a live-streamed video conference.

During the meeting, Rose said most of the $223,000 will be repaid by the provincial government, with Stephenville taxpayers on the hook for about $13,500.

Coun. Mark Felix, a former council finance chair who has been a critic of the town's financial support of the airport in the past, was one of the people who changed his mind to support Monday's vote, given the money was now largely going to be repaid.

"I'm a supporter of the airport, but not at all costs," he said.

"As we reach sustainability in maybe three years from now, the airport might be putting money back into the town council, and that's my goal," Rose said, in an earlier interview with the CBC Newfoundland Morning Show.

PAL Airlines ended its service to Stephenville earlier in the year, saying with fewer than 150 passengers a year, the route was no longer viable. (CBC )

Dwindling flights

Sustainability is a far cry from the current financial situation of the airport, which has been steadily losing traffic. 

In May, Porter Airlines and Sunwing cancelled their summer services to Stephenville, totalling a loss of about 60 flights a year. That comes on the heels of anchor tenant PAL Airlines ending its year-round service in January, saying that route was no longer viable.

Several councillors on Monday spoke of efforts underway to attract a new airline, hinting that a company is interested in providing regular service to Halifax, Sydney and St. John's, and that further fundraising efforts would be required to make that a reality.

"I'm sure we'll be bringing more information on that to the weeks that come," said Depurty Mayor Susan Fowlow.

"This is the first step, which is to get this company in and get things moving."

Rose said he has spoken to the provincial government and it has promised to chip in a portion of the needed funds.

"They're supporting this deal because they feel that Winnipeg is the right equation, the right business modelling, the right company, to finally get Stephenville back on track," Rose said.

Rose said WASCO's aviation expertise gives him confidence.

"They have the track record. They have the expertise and competencies, they're subject matter experts in the field, and I'm really excited," he said.

While official direction for the future rests with the Stephenville Airport Corporation, a non-profit airport authority run by a board of directors, Stephenville's council has contributed to the airport financially for years. 

In September, Felix told CBC that the town provided a $750,000 grant to the airport in 2016 meant to support financial viability by 2019.

In 2019, the town gave the airport another $570,000.

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