An Airport Transition Committee has been established to ensure a seamless transfer of ownership, oversee the development of a new governance model, and begin planning future enhancements for the Lethbridge Airport.
"We are very optimistic about the potential for the airport to become a significant business hub and economic generator for our city and region," says Mayor Spearman. "WestJet is launching new service to Lethbridge in June alongside Air Canada and Integra Air, and we believe this is just a first step toward expanding services at the Lethbridge Airport."
In March, an agreement in principle was jointly approved by both councils to transfer ownership of the Lethbridge Airport to the City of Lethbridge from Lethbridge County. The County and the City continue to work closely to have all formal agreements in place by June this year for the formal transfer of ownership and governance.
The agreement in principle has enabled the City of Lethbridge to begin seeking federal and provincial grants to help fund the improvements and expansion that are needed to enhance the airport's viability. 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.
Over the next six-to-nine months, the Airport Transition Committee plans to visit a number of airports in Canada with different models of governance and operation in order to determine a permanent model that will work best for the Lethbridge Airport. The committee will include three representatives from Lethbridge City Council, one from Lethbridge County Council, and three members at large who will be recruited by the committee. All appointments will be ratified by Lethbridge City Council.
"Through our collaboration with Lethbridge County the past eight years, we've learned the importance of moving toward a new governance model for the airport that is independent, has in-depth knowledge of the airline and airport industries, and can be nimble in a highly competitive environment," says Mayor Chris Spearman. "The Airport Transition Committee envisions adding three members at large with relevant skills and expertise. We will be looking inside and outside the local community for qualified candidates."
Development of a new governance model is expected to be complete by the end of this year. Once a permanent new governance body is in place, it will then develop a new operating model for the airport. Until a permanent new operating model for the airport is established, the County will continue to operate it on a fee-for-service basis, likely until late 2019.
The County owned and operated the airport since 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.
Gerald Gauthier, Communications Consultant
City of Lethbridge