Operating in an industry where turmoil has become a given, the Gander International Airport Authority (GIAA) has managed to stay afloat, but it will need to experience a rise in revenues in the years to come if it intends to deal with its infrastructure needs.
In 2009, GIAA posted its best operating results since accepting transfer of the airport from Transport Canada in 1996, with revenues of $6.52 million and a profit of $768,801. It was the airport authority's sixth straight year turning a profit, and it now has almost $6 million in its bank account.
"We're all here, and the lights are still on," joked Gary Vey, president and CEO of GIAA, speaking after its annual general meeting last Wednesday.
Revenue declined by just over $100,000, with landing fees dropping from $1.98 million in 2008 to $1.32 million last year. Aviation fuel fees were up, however, from $1.18 million in 2008 to $1.79 million in 2009. Passenger traffic was down four per cent.
GIAA chairman Fred Moffitt said the decline in traffic was below the Canadian average of 10 per cent.
The airport authority will need to see revenue increase over the next few years in order to deal with substantial capital needs. GIAA is projecting a capital deficit of $21 million by 2019, with the $10-million resurfacing project for Runway 03/21 topping the priority list.
Last year, the Deer Lake Regional Airport Authority received funds from the provincial and federal governments for a $9 million project to extend a runway.
Vey said government investment will be necessary for GIAA to make the necessary capital upgrades.
"All we're looking for is $20 million over 10 years - not a lot of money," he said, adding they would be looking for one-third of funding from each government.
To help complete capital work, GIAA is aiming to increase its revenue by 21 per cent in 2014, with an increase of 12 per cent forecast for 2010. Expenses will also rise over this timeframe - by 17 per cent come 2014.
Vey said with help from government, the airport authority's revenues would not have to rise so quickly.
Moffitt added increasing local use of the airport will help its revenue stream in the years to come.
"Although Gander only has 10,000 people, we service an area of 180,000 people, and that's the people we want to get in for flying," he said.
A third flight to Halifax will be added in June and will run until September. Vey is hopeful that with good passenger demand, the third flight will become a permanent addition to the schedule.
Next winter, he said, the airport hopes to be able to offer flights to both Cuba and the Dominican Republic, along with other destinations, for which negotiations have been ongoing.
Vey also said the airport will look to continue to build on its military traffic.
Traditionally a strength for the airport in Gander, military traffic patterns have also changed. The United Kingdom's Royal Air Force sent over 400 flights a year to Gander in the 1980s, said Moffitt, but recent years have seen those numbers decline to less than 50.
Moffitt believes the decline is in large part due to pilots choosing to visit George Street in St. John's - an attraction Gander cannot compete with, he said.
Already though, things are looking up in the early goings of 2010. Efforts to provide help to Haiti following the January earthquake saw 89 of 91 flights travelling through Atlantic Canada make a stop at the Gander International Airport.
"This underscores the importance of Gander as an emergency airport during difficult times," said Vey.
The airport authority also turned a profit for each of the first three months of 2010 - almost unheard of for GIAA, which usually runs a deficit until the summer season begins, said Moffitt.
However, he said international traffic should remain slow, as businesses continue to grapple with the downturn in the economy.
"The recession, according to the experts, is over in most countries, but economic activity is still slow, and it's not going to come back with a bang until probably November," Vey said.