As airports work to rebound from the impact COVID-19 had on the industry, the New Brunswick government is providing funding for a five-year pilot project to look at establishing new routes for the four major airports.
The Air Service Development Fund pilot project will receive $4 million in funding by the Regional Development Corporation over four years.
Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Jill Green said the strategy, which goes until 2027, provides a roadmap “for keeping our strategic aviation assets viable.”
Green said passenger travel decreased from 2019 to 2020 by 76 per cent.
“There was a total reduction of 27 routes provincewide,” she said at a press conference on Tuesday. “Today, air travel is rebounding and it is great to see New Brunswick airports are aiming to reach new heights.”
Through the fund, a committee will be established with members from the department, the Regional Development Corporation and the four airports located in Bathurst, Saint John, Moncton and Fredericton.
It will provide further recommendations to the government on new routes and destinations. The strategy does not include any closure of existing airports or any new builds.
In 2020, the creation of one major airport was being floated but many stakeholders, including the Chamber of Commerce in all three major cities, rallied against it. Premier Blaine Higgs spoke about the viability of the province’s airports in his throne speech following the 2020 election. Airports are under the jurisdiction of the federal government.
Green was clear on Thursday that moving toward one main airport was not something the experts identified as an option for the province.
“It was determined that building a new central airport and repurposing current airports is not the best approach due to the increased level of risk and uncertainty and a high level of financial commitment,” she said.
Several investments have been made into the existing airports.
In 2019, the Fredericton airport underwent a 24-month, $30-million expansion.
In March, the Saint John airport received $1.8 million in funding for critical safety equipment from the federal government.
In 2019, the Greater Moncton Romeo LeBlanc International Airport received $8.34 million to increase cargo operational infrastructure.
In 2021, the Fredericton and Moncton airports welcomed a new smaller-sized airline called PAL airlines.
“Enhancing air services, in particular scheduled passenger service, is key. By working collaboratively with our partners in this sector, the province will identify opportunities to improve connectivity and generate economic activity,” Green said in a media release.
Highlights of the strategy include:
- Existing airport infrastructure remains with no closures and no new builds.
- Enhance collaboration that focuses on long-term, sustainable growth in air service.
- Continue to support, when possible, infrastructure maintenance that is required for the continuous delivery of essential aviation services.
Green said key performance indicators will be used to measure the success of the pilot project and whether it should continue as is after five years.