Stakeholders split on higher fees at Yellowknife airport

The proposed fees are part of the territorial government's plan for the Yellowknife airport to become a self-sustaining entity, which includes ending a $4-million annual subsidy to the airport from the territorial government.

‘This is going to increase the cost of living,’ says airline spokesperson

A new parking lot with more spaces and a $125 million to $150 million new Yellowknife air terminal building are among the projects that could see funding from an airport improvement fee. (Sara Minogue/CBC)

A new plan, which includes ending a $4-million annual subsidy to the airport from the territorial government and replacing that money with new user fees is drawing criticism and praise. 

Stakeholders presented to the Northwest Territories Standing Committee on Economic Development and Environment on Wednesday regarding Bill 7 that would allow the Yellowknife airport to collect new fees in a revolving fund and use the money for capital projects like improving parking, a larger post-security area, plane bridges, and more retail space.

The proposed fees and revolving fund are part of the territorial government's five-year plan for the Yellowknife airport to become a self-sustaining entity. 

Concerns over cost of living, tourism

'Our job now will be to formulate our report on these findings and presenting that report on the floor of the house early in the next session in February… ultimately there will be a vote,' says Vanthuyne. (Handout)

"To be honest, it's been fairly split in terms of people in favour and those who have been opposed," said Cory Vanthuyne, MLA for Yellowknife North and chair of the standing committee.

One party opposed is the Northern Air Transport Association. It advocates for northern air carriers.

"We don't agree with loading the burden on to the users of Yellowknife airport and we're concerned about the economic damage. Tourism is obvious. We're talking about increases to ticket prices on flights ($19 - $29 per ticket)," said Colin Dempsey, general manager for Northern Air Transport Association.

Dempsey is also concerned that higher fees will increase the cost of living in the territory's fly-in only communities.

"If we increase the cost of transporting goods and services by air, we are going to increase the price of goods in those communities."

Dempsey is worried tourism and people living in small communities will be hardest hit. (submitted by Colin Dempsey)

Dempsey said the association would prefer the territorial government lobby the federal government to support upgrades to the Yellowknife airport.

"We are really focused on getting more federal money for airports because we really feel it is a federal responsibility to maintain critical infrastructure in the North."

'The fees... will not make us uncompetitive' 

The Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce supports the new fees and views expanded retail opportunities within the Yellowknife airport as a positive for the local economy.

"Businesses want to see investment at the Yellowknife airport. They want to see our airport grow. They are aware of the potential economic activity," said Deneen Everett, executive director of the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce.

'Businesses want to see investment at the Yellowknife airport,' says Deneen Everett, executive director for the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce. (Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce)

"The fees being proposed at the Yellowknife airport will not make us uncompetitive. We will remain a competitive air transportation hub for passengers and cargo."

However, Everett said the chamber's support is conditional on the passing of Bill 7.

"Because we want to ensure all funds generated at the Yellowknife airport will be reinvested back into the Yellowknife Airport." Everett said.

"This is not an opportunity for the GNWT to generate more revenue for their operations or for other projects."

As for Vanthuyne, he said his committee will now work on compiling a report of the community feedback and present the findings at the February session of the legislative assembly where Bill 7 will be read and voted on.


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