Nova Scotia

Group lobbying for Inverness airport says project would create 600 jobs in 5 years

The group supporting a new airport in western Cape Breton has released a business case outlining why they believe the controversial plan would benefit the region.

Business case released for controversial airport project

The operators of Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs say an airport in Inverness would attract more visitors to western and nothern Cape Breton. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

A group lobbying to build an airport in western Cape Breton has released a business case outlining why they believe the facility would benefit the region.

The group, called Build Cape Breton, includes the operators of the Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs golf courses in Inverness, N.S. The golf courses have long sought commercial air service for western Cape Breton, and are looking for provincial and federal funding to build the airport.

The exact costs or a potential location of the project have not been released.

The business case suggests an airport in Inverness could create 600 direct and indirect full-time jobs and generate $26.7 million in household income in its first five years of operation.

The five-page document, posted to the group's website Tuesday, does not specify how these estimates were determined. The business case summarizes a larger study authored by Cabot Links and a number of consultants, according to the website. 

The business case said the Inverness airport would mean better access for visitors to the Cabot Trail. (novascotia.com)

The business case said a new airport will bring more visitors to western and northern Cape Breton, serving passengers from markets such as Toronto, Boston and New York.

It said most air travellers who visit western Cape Breton initially land in Halifax or Sydney, and then rent a car. It goes on to say that visitors looking for two- to four-day excursions are discouraged by those drives — roughly two hours to Inverness from Sydney, or nearly four hours from Halifax. 

The business case also predicts that visitor spending generated by the airport would grow from $2.58 million in its first year to $27.61 million per year in a decade.

Traffic at the Port Hawkesbury airport has grown thanks to the Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs golf courses, but the airport has not attracted commercial airline service. (John Dowling)

Opponents of the project said it will cater to an elite clientele, and likely bankrupt the airport in Port Hawkesbury, an hour's drive from Inverness. 

An expert on regional economic development is lending his support to the project.

Donald Savoie teaches public administration at the University of Moncton, and wrote about economic challenges facing the region in his 2017 book, Looking for Bootstraps — Economic Development in the Maritimes.

He's also a golfer and has played at both Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs.

"It's far too limiting to suggest that it's only for the golf course. It's far more than that," said Savoie. "How do we attract more tourists? Well, we make it easier, easy for them to come and visit, and so this is an important project."

'Not a lose-lose proposition'

Savoie said he mentioned recently that he thought the airport is a good idea, and was asked if he would speak publicly about his support. He said he is not getting paid or receiving any other benefit.

He also said he thinks concerns about the impact on Port Hawkesbury airport are unfounded.

"I think the benefit would far outweigh the cost," said Savoie. "More tourists may well lead into more tourists into Sydney and Port Hawkesbury. It's not a lose-lose proposition. I think there's a lot of benefit that can grow from this for the whole of Cape Breton."

The Port Hawkesbury airport does not handle scheduled flights from major carriers, but caters largely to privately owned aircraft. Last year, the company that operates the airport, Celtic Air Services, said it welcomed more than 1,000 flights, three-quarters of which were passengers visiting golf courses in Cape Breton.

David Morgan, Celtic Air Services president, said the Port Hawkesbury airport has been pursuing scheduled commercial flights for years with no success. 

 He said there have been several applications to the federal government for funding for needed upgrades, but they have been unsuccessful.

"The town of Port Hawkesbury and the committee that manages the airport with representatives from the various counties and surrounding municipalities have put forward a plan to ACOA, I think every year for the past few years," Morgan told CBC News last month.

"Last year there was great news that everything was going to go ahead and all of a sudden, basically the tap got turned off again."

CBRM, Port Hawkesbury collaboration

Port Hawkesbury Mayor Brenda Chisholm Beaton asked Cape Breton regional council to support the idea of a collaborative airport project that would upgrade the existing airports in Port Hawkesbury and Sydney to Cabot's benefit.

Both councils are hoping to meet with Cabot, along with federal and provincial officials in the coming months to discuss the concept.

Cape Breton regional council voted at its regular monthly meeting on Monday to support further dialogue on the idea.

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