‘Major overhaul’ with SD&G ownership needed for Cornwall Regional Airport: consultant

(Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston, File)

CORNWALL – A consultant says governance of the Cornwall Regional Airport and its operational performance are “for the most part absent” and the facility is at long term risk.

The sobering details from Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton LLP are contained in a 73 page report to be delivered to a joint meeting of South Glengarry and Cornwall councils tonight (Tuesday).

On the sidelines, there’s been an ongoing squabble between the two municipalities over paying for the airport, on Airport Road, north of Summerstown.

An agreement from 1984 has an 85-15 per cent split between Cornwall and South Glengarry, with the township capped at $10,000. With the cap in place, Cornwall’s share had increased to around 92-93 per cent. While South Glengarry removed the cap in September 2015 as a sign of good faith bargaining, a new deal hasn’t been reached.

As part of its recommendations, the consultant says the entire commission should be abolished and a new multi-municipality ownership group (Cornwall and six SD&G townships/municipality) should be in place. It also says the day-to-day operation of the airport should be handled by Cornwall’s economic development department.

The consultant, hired to look at the long term viability of the airport, says the municipalities better not bank on recreational or corporate flier markets which “have seen an overall decline in the last 20 years and are predicted to remain depressed in the coming years.”

Instead, the airport commission needs to concentrate on nontraditional areas like commercial flight instruction, aircraft maintenance firms and agricultural flying, such as fertilizer and pesticide application.

That’s because the Cornwall-area faces competition from municipal airports in Carp, Smiths Falls and Brockville – all with more aggressive marketing, the report stated.

The consultant does add that the airport plays an “essential role” in emergency services such as air ambulance and police aerial enforcement. Medivac flights range from 4-15 landings a year with 44 landings between 2012 and 2016.

The consultant also says the airport needs to look at expanding its runway to 5,000 feet to “offer more possibilities in terms of aircraft access.” Right now, the airport has a 3,500 foot runway.

As for the financial aspects, there’s concern that municipal funding makes up nearly two-thirds of the airports revenue – higher than comparable airports. However that’s been coming down.

As well, expenses have been outpacing generated revenue from 2013-2015, resulting in Cornwall and South Glengarry have to go to the taxpayer (a 13 per cent increase in municipal funding from 2013-2015).

The study notes that revenue increased 50 per cent last year while expenses went up 6 per cent and a new revenue source came online this year with jet fuel sales.

The Cornwall Regional Airport, north of Summerstown, is 42 years old.

The joint council meeting starts at 6 p.m. in Salon B at the Cornwall Civic Complex.