Wally Schumann: Yellowknife Airport Evaluation

Delivered on March 1, 2017

Mr. Speaker, the NWT economy needs a boost right now and the Yellowknife Airport is an important instrument of economic diversity. Finding new, proven ways to support and fund improvements and growth at the Airport will help strengthen and diversify the NWT economy and create benefits for all travellers and business that use the Airport.

The Department of Transportation is engaged with air carriers, the public, and other key stakeholders, who believe there is an opportunity to improve the Yellowknife Airport to support economic growth and better services. To achieve this, the Department of Transportation is proposing to introduce a new revolving fund framework for the Airport, which would allow it to become financially self-sufficient by funding its own ongoing capital,  operations and maintenance expenditures.

Mr. Speaker, the Yellowknife Airport is currently funded through the government’s consolidated revenues, making it another draw on GNWT resources used to fund all its other operations. Meanwhile, traffic at the Airport increased 16 percent from 2011 to 2015 and continues to rise. This additional pressure makes the need for costly improvements even more critical.  The Department of Transportation believes the Airport can use its robust passenger volumes to support itself financially if it were to use a fee system that is in line with other similarly-sized airports in Canada. Moreover, this would shift the financial burden of supporting the Airport away from NWT taxpayers to airport users, more than half of which are non-residents.

Mr. Speaker, as outlined in the draft business plan developed for the Yellowknife Airport, the Department of Transportation has a very clear plan of how it would use these fees. All Airport Improvement Fees would go towards making capital improvements while other fees would be used to cover the cost of services provided to users. Input into this business plan was provided by key airport stakeholders who identified the improvements they believe are necessary for a strong and effective airport moving forward.

All of the actions identified in the business plan were accompanied by clear timelines for implementation. This plan will ensure the Airport has the financial resources and flexibility it needs to provide enhanced services to travellers and more opportunities for northern businesses.

A dedicated source of funding for the Airport means that more resources can be invested into things like increased parking and retail space, helping to attract more business to the Airport and stimulate our economy. Improving the capacity of cargo facilities could benefit industries that rely on the timely and efficient movement of large quantities of goods and material to support their operations.

Infrastructure improvements such as upgraded lighting and a central de-icing facility to reduce travel delays would have a direct impact on the ability of airlines to deliver operations and services. Improved security services and expanded holding areas that reduce congestion, along with modern amenities, will improve traveller experience and comfort. It would also allow tourists visiting Yellowknife or connecting to other destinations in the Northwest Territories to take away better first and last impressions of the North.

The number of visitors to the Northwest Territories has increased 45 percent over the past five years. While this growth is extremely positive for our tourism industry, it is putting a strain on the Yellowknife Airport, which needs to be upgraded and modestly expanded in the short-term to cope with the pressures.

The possibilities for evolving the Airport are many, but without a reliable funding model we cannot make the changes that are necessary for economic development and service growth. The minimal impact increased aeronautical fees would have on the cost of living would be greatly outweighed by the positive economic activity generated by improving the Yellowknife Airport. Already, approximately 1000 people are employed directly through activity at the Airport and there is an opportunity to generate more jobs for Northerners.

Mr. Speaker, the time is now to invest in the Yellowknife Airport as an important economic catalyst for our territory. With the support and feedback of residents and stakeholders we can work together to make infrastructure improvements that will attract investment, supporting the addition of more flights, increased passenger numbers, greater cargo volumes, and new business opportunities.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.