By Ross Poulsen
A packed Town Hall meeting was held on May 24 at the Brantford Civic Centre to discuss the future of the airport.
About 400 attended the public forum where local citizens and businesses made presentations to show City Council the real need to keep the Brantford Airport as an essential service to the city.
Leading up the meeting, a local newspaper conducted a telephone poll to the question "Does Brantford need an airport?" The tally was about 2,300 calls with 99 per cent in favour. An internet poll to the same question resulted in 82 per cent saying yes.
The packed auditorium certainly illustrated the concern and strong support for the airport.
Kevin Psutka, president/CEO of COPA, said he has seen this same debate in many communities across Canada. However, when properly-conducted economic impact studies are done, as was recently the case in Oshawa, the value of the airport to the community always stands out.
"Airports really are an essential service to any community and definitely should be supported and developed," he said.
Several presenters commented on the fact the city has commissioned several airport studies over the past 25 years and they all led to the same conclusion. The airport is an essential service and needs to be supported.
So they questioned why the city would now consider closing the airport in light of this consistent advice.
They also questioned the city’s categorization of the airport on its priority list. Category 5 is, "Like to do if possible." Presenters pointed out that if any other part of the transportation infrastructure were in this category, it would be like saying, bridge repairs will only be done if they can get to it sometime.
Provincial Schools Transportation Co-ordinator John Grochot for the Ottawa - Carlton District School Board co-ordinates travel every week for blind children from all over the province to the W. Ross MacDonald School for the blind in Brantford.
On Friday and Sunday nights, they utilize three Jetstreams and a King Air 200 to move not just the blind children to Brantford but others who are deaf or who have learning disabilities to other centres.
Travel by air to and from the Brantford Airport permits the children to spend more time with their parents on weekends and in many cases is the only practical way they can go home each weekend, said Grochot.
Ted Davies, a commercial and industrial real estate broker from Mississauga said, when corporations are looking to re-locate or build new plants there are many options available, but if the community has an airport it is already one point ahead in the corporate decision versus those communities that do not have an airport.
Gary Surette, chair of the Brantford United Way, said one in five people in Brantford benefit in some way from the many services of the United Way. Every year, 20,000-30,000 attend the Brant United Way Airshow to kick off their yearly campaign. The airport is essential to them and to the overall transportation network.
Pat Field from Brant Aero said his business has been at the airport for 35 years. He said his business alone has a direct and indirect economic impact of more than $5 million a year in the area. He expressed the difficulty he is now having in being able to attract additional high-quality technical people to relocate due to the "uncertainty" that City Council has put on the airport. Field also submitted to City Council a petition to Save the Brantford Airport with more than 1,600 signatures.
Another case was made by a past president of a multi-billion dollar corporation who expounded on the merits of corporate aircraft as an essential business tool and that businesses gravitate to cities and towns who have airports.
Of the city councillors who attended the meeting, two councillors walked out after the first two presentations.
In conclusion, the meeting highlighted the need for city council to read (and study) the previous airport studies, consider the presenters' comments from the meeting, which were recorded, talk to other communities about how they have developed their airports and listen to people in-the-know about aviation.
Psutka noted this was perhaps the best organized group of presenters he has seen.
"I would like to thank everyone who took the time and effort to attend and present their views as well as for the many emails, surveys and petitions that have been submitted or conducted to date. This effort will pay off; to preserve Brantford Airport and general aviation."