The City of Lethbridge has formally assumed ownership of the Lethbridge Airport from Lethbridge County.
At a special joint meeting today, members of City and County councils voted to approve an agreement to transfer ownership of the airport to the City and to have the County continue operating the airport on an interim basis. An agreement-in-principle on the ownership transfer was approved by both councils in March.
The Lethbridge Airport is an important asset for our city and region that we believe has tremendous potential," says Lethbridge Mayor Chris Spearman. "We encourage leisure and business travelers to take advantage of the increased flight options, competitive pricing and convenience of using the Lethbridge Airport. As we go forward, we are seeking federal and provincial grants to make the improvements and expansion that are necessary to enhance the airport's viability and help foster the development of a distribution hub for our region as well as support the growth of aviation-related businesses."
While the City continues to examine options for a new operating and governance model for the airport, the County will continue to operate it for an 18-month period beginning July 1, 2018. New governance and operating models are expected to be established sometime in 2019.
"The airport has the potential to be a strong economic driver for our region, but requires infrastructure upgrades and investment to keep it viable," says Lethbridge County Deputy Reeve Ken Benson. "Lethbridge County was proud to own and operate the airport for many years, however we do not have access to funding that would allow for these upgrades. Under the new ownership agreement, the City can access additional opportunities and funding to ensure long-term growth and sustainability under a new governance model. The County will now have the ability to focus on our own infrastructure projects for the benefit of our citizens. We are confident in the City's ability to continue the work we have done to ensure the Lethbridge Airport remains a strong economic asset to the region."
Near-term goals are to improve the passenger experience on inbound and outbound flights, which will require upgrades and expansion of the air terminal building. The longer-term vision for the airport is to establish a strategy for the development of land adjacent to the air terminal building that takes full advantage of the close proximity to the airport, the city and highway transportation routes.
A 2016 airport study, commissioned jointly by the County and the City, recommended that the two parties negotiate a new ownership structure and implement a new governance model. The study also recommended preparing an Airport Master Plan, which is currently being developed, as well as considering improvements and expansion of the Air Terminal Building in order to improve the airport's competitive position.
The County assumed ownership and operations of the airport in 1997, when Transport Canada relinquished ownership of regional and local airports to regional and community interests. Established in 1938 as a municipal airport by the City of Lethbridge, the airport was later leased to the Government of Canada during the Second World War as a military and civil aerodrome. After the war, the federal Department of Transportation assumed the operation of the airport and eventually assumed full ownership in the 1960s.