Nova Scotia

Yarmouth officials hope for return of airport passenger service

The board for the Yarmouth International Airport Corporation hopes a meeting next week will lead to a plan to help the site reach its full potential.

Other possible goals include pursuing cargo opportunities, turning area into business park

Officials with the airport in Yarmouth hope it soon becomes a hive of activity. (Michael Gorman/CBC)

After plenty of disappointment and millions of dollars invested, municipal officials in Yarmouth County, N.S., are hoping activity at the local airport could soon take off.

The board of the Yarmouth International Airport Corporation will meet on Aug. 15 for a day-long strategic planning session. Irene d'Entremont, the board's chairwoman, said the hope is to come out of that meeting with a plan of where they want to be and how to get there.

D'Entremont believes the airport should be the region's economic engine.

"We have [a] limited amount of transportation," she said. "When you lose your rail and your buses, we need air. We really do, for cargo and for passenger service."

Major investment to maintain

While it hasn't been a ghost town at the airport in recent years, it hasn't been a hive of activity, either.

Through the years the site has played host to a local flying club, air shows and an Environment Canada station. It also sells fuel to planes passing through, is used for military exercises and provides a landing site for Coast Guard, Natural Resources and Life Flight aircraft.

Keeping the site functioning has not been cheap.

In the last 10 fiscal years, the Town of Yarmouth, Municipality of the District of Yarmouth and Municipality of the District of Argyle have put in a combined $6.2 million.

Aldric d'Entremont, a warden in Argyle, acknowledged it's been challenging times for the airport, but he said the site has too much potential to consider the alternative.

"I guess most of us think it's worthwhile because what do you do if you shut 'er down?"

Goal of bringing back passenger service

The airport has international customs facilities on site, something that has always given people hope regular passenger service might return.

This is no easy task. Attempts in the last 10 years to resurrect service from Yarmouth to Halifax or other locations, such as Portland, Maine, have fallen flat.

"I think the only way it can really work is if we have a major airline that wants to make connections," said d'Entremont.

To that end, the airport corporation has hired consulting group InterVISTAS to look at what could be possible for the site.

Vote of confidence from Midland

The warden also sees potential for turning some of the land surrounding the airport into a business park. Evidence of what that might look like is happening a baseball throw away, where Midland Transport has broken ground on a new facility that will include an 11-door crossdock to handle inbound and outbound shipments.

"Maybe that will stir up the pot," said d'Entremont.

The new location for Midland will replace its existing site in town. In an email, company president Robert Irving said the move "reflects the strong potential of this airport as a vital link in moving time-sensitive freight to and from the area."

"We look forward to working with local shippers, moving products to national and international markets as well as supporting local enterprises in the delivery of vital supply chain materials."

The challenges of shipping seafood by air

The investment from a company connected to Irving gives the board hope, said Irene d'Entremont.

"It's a corporation that doesn't make these investments very lightly," she said.

In an area such as Yarmouth County, there is no more time-sensitive freight than seafood, especially lobster. Seafood is trucked away from the area to Halifax or Boston before heading to even farther flung markets via air.

Irene d'Entremont said the hope is that might change, but it isn't easy.

"You have to have the right plane and you have to have a freight forwarded for a lot of these cargo shipments," she said. A freight forwarder ensures there is space on aircraft to get cargo to its final destination.

"We have to make sure that when we put a business plan together that business plan is going to work. You can't start and do something for a few months . . . and not keep on going. So it has to be a business plan that makes sense for months and years to come."