Collingwood airport continues to climb
Nearly a decade ago, the Collingwood Regional Airport was sputtering and about to crash. The provincial and federal governments – which had been funding small airports – had pulled out and the municipalities were left holding the bag. "It left a lot of these airports, standing at the end of a plank," said Charlie Tatham, who serves as chair of the Collingwood Regional Airport services board. The Town of Collingwood was footing the bill for the airport. Former Mayor Terry Geddes said it was Mayor Doug Garbutt and former CAO Jay Courier, who had a vision for the airport. "Mayor Garbutt had a belief in the airport," he recalled. "Our focus was to establish the Collingwood Airport as a strong entity." When he was elected Mayor, Geddes said the first priority was putting together a strong board for the airport – which included representation from other municipalities. Geddes said he gave council an ultimatum. "If the other municipalities didn’t buy into a sense of ownership, we were going to shut it down," he said. Geddes said there were other proposals for the property, which included a golf course, business development and a repair depot for a major airline. "It would have been a tragic loss for Collingwood," he said, if the airport would have been closed. He credited Tatham and then-Counillor Joe Gardhouse with getting the plan back on track. "Other municipalities had citizens who were using the airport," he said. "Joe Gardhouse did an extremely good job on bringing those municipalities on board." Clearview Township and Wasaga Beach came on board. Each municipality would contribute financially – about $25,000 annually – and would each have a seat on the board. Collingwood has two board members, but only one vote. The board is currently made up of Peter Dunbar, director of leisure services for the Town of Collingwood, Charlie Tatham, Collingwood Councillors Ian Chadwick and Mike Edwards, Clearview Councillor Doug Measures and Wasaga Beach Councillor George Watson. "Clearview’s stance is that it’s a cooperative effort between municipalities," said Measures. "It’s a major economic engine. The trend has been that there has been steady growth." Tatham said around this time, the runway had been expanded to 4,000 feet. "He (Geddes) became a little frustrated with the neighbours. It was recommended that the airport was a regional airport," Tatham said. "I took that as a bit of a challenge." Since 2002, Tatham said more than 120,000 square feet of hangar space has been built at the airport. "In 2001, we’ve put a hangar information package for people who we knew were interested in building hangars," said airport manager Pierre Lajoie. "It’s snowballed since." In 2008, more than 238 corporate aircraft landed at the airport as well as 2,800 local aircraft and 50 military aircraft. The airport also saw a rise in fuel sales to 230,000 litres in 2008, up from 221,000 litres in 2007. Tatham said the airport made a profit of about $70,000 from fuel sales in 2008. He said the next step for the airport is to encourage more corporations to locate planes in Collingwood. He said it’s expensive to house planes at Pearson International Airport and it could save companies a lot of money to locate in Collingwood. "We’ve always looked at getting corporate aircraft located here," he said. "We can take any corporate jet that is likely to come here. It doesn’t take long for it to become really attractive." Tatham says Barrick Gold houses one of its planes in Collingwood. Measures said he would like to see more air freight service coming from the airport. Tatham said the airport was built for companies such as Pilkington and Goodyear to transport goods. Recently, the airport received about $880,000 from the government to re-pave its 5,000-metre runway, which will make it stronger. A challenge still facing the airport is getting customs service in Collingwood. Currently, if a plane is coming to Collingwood it must go to another airport to clear customs. Tatham said if the government would send a customs officer from Barrie to Collingwood to clear planes, it would mean a lot of business for the Collingwood airport. "It’s lost potential for us," he said. "There are customs services at some of the smaller airports that don’t have a fraction of the business that we have. That would be a real asset to have that service here." Lajoie said the airport continues to grow and expects two-three hangars to built in the next year. He said the airport gets a lot of business from military aircraft, Ministry of Natural Resources and local golf tournaments. "We’ve made a name for ourselves," he said.