As the volume of air traffic continues to grow at Canada’s largest airport, local officials say the value of the Lake Simcoe Regional Airport (LSRA) rises with it.
Corporate and leisure travellers, tired of the hassles of getting in and out of Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, one of the busiest in North America, are opting to spend a few more minutes in the air and redirect their flights 100 kilometres north to LSRA in Oro-Medonte.
“I think that’s a general trend,” said Mike Drumm, LSRA's airport manager. “The constraints associated with both ground transportation and the air connectivity into that are continuing to grow. There’s a natural inclination that people will want more efficient modes of transportation.”
That desire for efficiency has sparked a significant increase in traffic at the regional airport, located about halfway between Barrie and Orillia on Line 7 North.
According to Drumm, jet turbine "movements" — that would be takeoffs and landings — are up 40 per cent, year-over-year.
While the increase in air traffic can’t be attributed to any one thing, Nancy Huether, director of economic development and airport services for Simcoe County, thinks it’s a result of a number of factors, including the county’s location and growing population.
“We’re currently concentrating on corporate and commercial aviation and related services,” Huether said. “There are growth restraints at Pearson. We’re positioned to capitalize on the growth in Simcoe County.”
According to a provincial estimate done in 2021, Simcoe County’s population — excluding the separated cities of Barrie and Orillia — will grow from about 360,000 currently to 555,000 in 2051. The influx of new residents will result in new jobs. The province is forecasting 198,000 jobs will exist in Simcoe County, up from the current 117,000.
“Airports, in a modern world, provide crucial connectivity to markets as well as knowledge-based resources, recognizing it’s a major driver of economic development," Huether said.
Drumm says numerous companies across Simcoe County have discovered the advantages of using the LSRA for the transportation of both people and goods. It’s less congested and it’s a certified point of entry.
“We are serviced by Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA),” Drumm said. “We’re a commercial point of entry, so in addition to passengers we are also able to accept commercial goods.”
The LSRA, like virtually every other airport in the world, is in a constant state of evolution, which means adding new services that are designed to enhance the customer 'experience' and new facilities that will help it manage the growth the county expects down the line.
Huether says it’s all part of the county’s strategic plan, which was first introduced in 2018, when the LSRA approached its then-owners — the City of Barrie, Oro-Medonte Township and Simcoe County — looking for a $66-million investment to support a multi-phased plan. Then, in 2019, Simcoe County purchased all of Oro-Medonte’s shares and the majority of Barrie’s shares. Currently, the county owns 90 per cent and the City of Barrie owns 10 per cent.
“The first phase lays the foundation for future growth,” she said.
Projects in phase one included widening the runway from 30 metres to 45 metres, adding new pavement markings and installing a high-intensity LED airfield lighting system.
Phase two will see the runway extended 300 metres to 2,133 metres from its current 1,828 metres.
“A longer runway can accommodate a wider variety of aircraft and it also makes everything safer,” Huether said.
While much of the activity at the local airport is focused on upgrades and improvements, county officials are working behind the scenes to ensure its long-term viability.
A month ago, the county applied for Transport Canada aerodrome certification for the LSRA to facilitate scheduled passenger service at the 226-hectare site.
“The application for airport certification has been submitted and they’ve acknowledged receipt, so we’ll await next steps from Transport Canada,” said Huether.
Wayne Doyle, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, BarrieToday.com