© Tina Comeau
YARMOUTH, N.S. – Finding themselves in a catch-22 situation – and a very expensive one at that – the municipal units that operate the Yarmouth airport have decided to voluntarily change the facility’s certification.
Changing the certification from 302 to 301 means the airport can operate as it does now with one major exception – it can’t have scheduled passenger air service.
Another notable difference is operating costs for the airport would be a lot less.
The town and municipality of Yarmouth and the Municipality of Argyle have all decided this is the way to proceed.
A July audit carried out by Transport Canada found major deficiencies on main runway 06-24, meaning the runway does not meet the requirements of 302 certification. Therefore the units were going to be pressed by Transport Canada to make these repairs sooner rather than later. In other words, within months as opposed to years. If the units didn’t meet timelines set out by Transport Canada, it could have forced the airport to surrender its certification or face fines of $5,000 per incident.
The airport will look to develop a long-term plan for the runway repairs. The municipal units will also consider the advice of the airport manager to close the runway until repairs can be made. A second runway would remain operational.
The needed runway rehabilitation could run between $3 million and $6 million. There is federal funding available for such upgrades through the Airports Capital Assistance Program (ACAP).
And therein lies the catch-22.
“If you have scheduled passenger service for three years and you carry 1,000 passengers for each of those years, you can then apply to the ACAP program,” explained CAO Jeff Gushue at Yarmouth town council’s Aug. 10 meeting. But you have to be 302 certified. “The problem is, we won’t be 302 certified until we spend money on the exact things that you would get the ACAP money for.”
“We can’t have a passenger air service without doing the upgrades,” Gushue added. “And we can’t get anyone else’s funding for the upgrades unless we have passenger service for three years.”
Councillor Clifford Hood said at council’s Aug. 10 meeting that the average passenger load for Starlink was 3.4 per trip. It was a use-it-or-lose-it scenario, he said. It wasn’t used, so it was lost.
Hood said the units can’t put up the money needed now to maintain the airport certification on the chance you may get a passenger service later on.
Still, this isn’t to say there might not be passenger air service in the future. If a strong possibility exists, the airport could always ask for its certification to go back up.
With the cost savings from dropping down in certification now, that money could be invested back into capital infrastructure on a timeline the units can better manage and afford.
STILL A BUSY PLACE
Despite not having regular passenger service, the airport is busy, with around 1,500 movements a year. It is used by private aircraft, EHS LifeFlight, charter flights, military assets for training, search and rescue assets, etc. Last month Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s plane even landed in Yarmouth.
All of the current uses would still be available under 301 certification. Pilots would decide if they wanted to use the airport or not. It was noted during council’s discussion that the airport in Port Hawkesbury is 301 certified and it sees more activity than Yarmouth’s does.
Meanwhile, other types of economic opportunities for the airport facility will continue to be pursued.