Gander — A year ago, the Gander International Airport Authority said it needed a significant boost in revenues to deal with its infrastructure needs.
That changed late last month, and board chairman Fred Moffitt had a different message at the annual general meeting on April 13.
“It is, in no short measure, a game-changer,” Moffitt said, referring to the $9.9 million funding agreement equally cost-shared between the airport authority and the federal and provincial governments.
“What has changed is this — with this investment as a platform, we can change our agenda from one of sustainability to one of committing all of our time and resources to growing our airport and creating economic opportunity.”
While it may have sounded as if Moffitt was indicating the airport was struggling financially, the opposite is true.
For the seventh consecutive year, the airport authority recorded a profit. And not just a profit — 2010 marked its best year ever since it took over airport operations from Transport Canada on March 1, 2001. Last year, the airport recorded revenues of $7.6 million — a 17 per cent improvement over 2009 — and had an operating income of $1.3 million.
“Let’s take stock of where we are,” said CEO and president Gary Vey.
“Despite what critics and economists said, we are here — a full-service, 24/7 international operation. We are into our seventh year of profit. We have no debt. We have some money in the bank for emergency contingencies. We have a commitment to share our most pressing capital requirements. We have great promise going forward and room to grow.”
Overall in 2010, revenues at the airport increased by $1.1 million over 2009, with just more than half — $629,537 — coming from aviation fuel fees. Landing fees contributed $280,639 to the cash till. Domestic passenger traffic was up nine per cent compared to 2009, marking an eight-year high, said Moffitt.
He said that was well higher than the Canadian average, which saw passenger activity slip by six per cent.
This increase in domestic passenger traffic was as a result of added flights and more locations available to passengers, including Air Canada’s third seasonal flight direct to Halifax, and a year-round direct service to Labrador through local operator EVAS Air.
Vey said he also envisions growth for 2011, as Sunwing has doubled its capacity for its Caribbean service to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic and Varadero, Cuba this spring, and will provide twice weekly charter flights to Toronto this summer.
Air Canada will also introduce seasonal daily service to Toronto with a 93-seat Embraer.
“There is still room to grow, but more people than ever are choosing the convenience of flying (out of) Gander,” said Vey, noting there are an estimated 50,000-70,000 central Newfoundland passengers flying from other gateways every year.
“We continue to work to ensure central Newfoundland residents have access to the timely and affordable air service they deserve.”
Last year also saw an increase in international technical stops, which grew by 15 per cent over 2009, but Vey cautioned not to jump to conclusions about those numbers, since 2009 was a terrible year for inspection stops the world over.
He noted that patronage from military aircraft is a cornerstone of both the airport and region.
“Fuel sales, concessions, hotel accommodations, handling, and related spending from military aircraft at Gander generates $50 million in revenue annually to the region,” he said.
“Military movements in Gander remain strong. We continue to focus our marketing efforts in this direction, and customer retention is key.”
Moffitt said the airport authority is enthusiastic about the future.
Vey was a little more colourful.
“I can remember … that it appeared our international traffic had completely dried up,” he said.
“I spent many hours looking out the window like a fisherman’s widow. On one occasion, I’m convinced I saw a tumbleweed blowing down the runway. … So, in our effort to reinvent the airport, we went forward with a fairly basic mandate: leave no stone unturned, and if there was any blood to be had from that stone, squeeze it like your life depended on it.
“We don’t know as of yet what 2011 will hold, but our forecast is that our financial performance will be even better next year.”