'Inequity in the system': Charlottetown airport continues to seek federal help

The Charlottetown Airport is still looking for more access to federal funding and a change in rent policy ahead of the 2017 federal budget.

The airport is among others in Atlantic Canada that don't have access to federal funding

The Charlottetown Airport is asking the federal government for infrastructure funding and a change in rent policy. (Stephanie Brown/CBC News)

The Charlottetown Airport is still looking for more access to federal funding and a change in rent policy ahead of the 2017 federal budget.

On Wednesday, the Atlantic Canada Airports Association presented to the House of Commons Standing Committee in Halifax on behalf of small airports in the region.

Small airports want access to funding

As it stands, the airports on federal property aren't eligible for federal funding.

Doug Newson, CEO of the Charlottetown Airport Authority, said this is a conversation they had with the previous government for five years, and with the current government as long as they have been in office.

"As a small airport sometimes it can be challenging to keep your fees as low as possible and still generate enough revenue to still pay for all the infrastructure upgrades that are required to run an airport," said Newson.

The airport is just finishing up their first year of runway renovations. (Stephanie Brown/CBC News)

Charlottetown Airport is finishing up the first year of a three-year project to improve their runways. First they are extending their smaller runway, then in 2018 reconstructing the main runway.

Newson said the two projects it will cost more than $20 million. He said they do have a bit over half saved up because they knew this was coming, but not enough to cover the entire cost.

The construction will happen no matter what

"It will get done regardless, one way or another," said Newson.

"It's a safety requirement for the airport. Obviously we need our runways to be safe for our partners so it will happen."

That could mean having to hike fees or take out a loan.

If federal funding isn't received, the airport might have to raise fees, take out a loan or do both. (Stephanie Brown/CBC News)

"There's a few options I guess. One would be to raise our fees — we certainly don't want to do that — or we can finance the project through debt. That's an option as well, or a combination of both," he said.

Newson said they want at least the chance to apply for funding.

"We just believe it's inequity in the system that should be addressed." he said.

Rent is also due

There had been a grace period for smaller airports in Atlantic Canada to pay rent, but it ends this year.

Newson said the Charlottetown Airport is looking at paying $40,000 - $45,000 this year, depending on their revenue.

"Anytime you add an extra cost onto a small airport, when we're already saying that we need support for funding for infrastructure, it just puts a bit more pressure on the airport as a whole, and we're going to have to work around it," he said.

Issue across Atlantic Canada

Newson said these are problems for smaller airports across the region.

"On the small airports infrastructure file there are four airports in Atlantic Canada that are in that predicament right now," he said.

"We all have major projects either underway or required in the short term."

The cities are Charlottetown, Saint John, Fredericton and Gander.

Doug Newson, CEO, hopes the 2017 federal budget will reflect the funding changes. (Stephanie Brown/CBC News)

All those airports are also paying rent, said Newson, and Moncton will pay as well this year.

The Atlantic Canada Airports Association has asked the government eliminate rent for airports with less than three million passengers annually, and to cap charges for larger airports.

Newson said the Charlottetown Airport will have brought in just over 325,000 passengers this year, up from last year.

Newson is optimistic about the talks so far, and said they will keep pressing the issue.

"We believe that we've done a good job at least of putting the issue out there and there's recognition that there is an issue and something has to be done," he said.

"Whether or not it will happen as a part of this budget cycle, I guess time will tell."

In the meantime, the construction of the runway will continue.