Yellowknife airport on track to be self-funding by the end of the year

The Yellowknife airport is on track to be financially self-sustaining on its own revenues by the end of 2017. A revolving funding model was put in place in July.

Special airport economic advisor committee has first meeting, eyes expanding cargo side of operations

The Yellowknife airport meets the threshold for passenger traffic to be self-sustainable, but just barely. (Garrett Hinchey/CBC)

A new funding model went into effect for the Yellowknife airport in July, and the airport is already on track to be financially self-sustaining on its own revenues by the end of this year.

It helps that at the same time airport improvement fees were launched to add to the revenue.

"The GNWT is no longer funding the Yellowknife airport," says Michael Conway, regional superintendent with the Department of Infrastructure. "We plan to be self-sustainable this year."

Michael Conway, regional superintendant with the Department of Infrastrucutre, said the Yellowknife airport is on track to be self-funding by the end of the year. (Melinda Trochu/CBC)

In the past, the airport received $4 million in annual funding from the territorial government, but no longer.

"The Yellowknife airport is now in a situation where it has to earn its own keep," Conway said.

But it might not be easy.

According to Daniel Gooch, president of the Canadian Airports Council, most large commercial airports in Canada are self sufficient in terms of both their capital costs and their operating costs, but those airports have much more traffic than Yellowknife.

Gooch says it can be challenging for airports with fewer than 550,000 passengers to operate on its own revenue, and that's the approximate annual passenger traffic at the Yellowknife airport.

He said most major airports have an airport improvement fee, "used to pay for ongoing capital requirements, major capital projects, expansion, [and] runway maintenance."

Airports in Canada have invested more than $22 billion into infrastructure, primarily using airport improvement funds.

Advisory council meets

A special economic advisory committee made of seven local business leaders (Darrell Beaulieu, Adrian Bell, Kelly Brenton, Renee Comeau, David Connelly, Jake Heron and Peter Vician) gathered for the first time on Nov. 2. Part of its purpose is to help guide the airport under its new funding model.

"It went exceptionally well," Conway said of the first meeting.

In Yellowknife the committee is looking into developing the cargo side of the airport business.

"Cargo is an area that we haven't really focused on in the past," Conway said.

"At this point we see Yellowknife as being a cargo centre. We're working ... to try to make sure that we go about that properly and that we can provide jobs and create new opportunities for businesses here in Yellowknife and throughout the Northwest Territories."

Conway said there is no plan "to raise fees at all" and that the Yellowknife airport is the only one in the N.W.T. the government wants to make self-sustainable.

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