Nova Scotia

Passenger service plans at Yarmouth airport grounded

The ongoing quest to restore regular passenger service at the Yarmouth airport is on hold as municipal officials attempt to determine the site’s future.

Runway certification downgraded as repairs fail to meet Transport Canada specs

Downgrading the certification of the runways at the Yarmouth airport means regular passenger service cannot happen at the site. (Michael Gorman/CBC)

The ongoing quest to restore regular passenger service at the Yarmouth, N.S., airport is on hold as municipal officials attempt to determine the site's future.

Municipality of the District of Argyle CAO Alain Muise said although upgrades and repairs on the two runways have been made through the years, the work no longer meets Transport Canada requirements.

Municipal officials have made the decision to downgrade runway certification, a move that means regular passenger service cannot operate at the site.

It's been estimated the necessary improvements could cost as much as $6 million, said Muise. But accessing government funding to do the repairs requires the existence of regular passenger service.

"It's a bit of a circular issue for us right now," said Muise. "The funding is going to be challenging for us."

There hasn't been regular passenger service out of the airport for about a decade when a company was flying between Porland, Maine, and Yarmouth.

'Let's just take a step back'

Muise said the certification change has no affect on current activities at the airport. The air ambulance LifeFlight continues to operate, Canadian Coast Guard and military aircraft take off and land, and charter and private flights come and go. The airport averages about 1,600 movements a year, he said.

Yarmouth Mayor Pam Mood said the site is vital to the region if for no other reason than the availability of LifeFlight and coast guard aircraft.

"You can't put a price on somebody's life, and in a fishing community you need to have that."

Mood remains hopeful passenger service will some day come back and, as many elected officials from Yarmouth County have in the past, points to the possibility of the site also attracting economic development.

The change in certification wasn't forced, she said.

"We just came to the best decision that we could come to: Let's just take a step back, take a look out there, see where we are [and] where we want to go."

Pursuing other options

Muise said the three municipalities that own the airport — Argyle, the Town of Yarmouth and the Municipality of the District of Yarmouth — are now awaiting a report on required improvements for the site and will then make a decision on what to do next, likely this fall, he said.

Between $800,000 and $1 million a year goes into operating the airport, said Muise. Aside from chasing passenger service, Muise said the airport board has also focused on attracting aerospace-related businesses and cargo companies.

While the latter might seem an obvious option, given the amount of lobster caught in the region and the overseas appetite for it, Muise said the length of the runway is a limiting factor. It's about 750 metres short of what would be needed, he said.

"It's not something that will work unless we have a partner interested in doing that."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia whose coverage areas include Province House, rural communities, and health care. Contact him with story ideas at michael.gorman@cbc.ca

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