Leduc County commits $1.5 million to help attract more international flights to Edmonton's airport

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Leduc County is committing $1.5 million over three years to lift the efforts of Edmonton International Airport (EIA) in attracting more global flights to the region.

County council decided to make the contribution during its June 8 meeting after the EIA put out a call for support. The airport is seeking to raise $15-million for its air services opportunity fund to help the struggling airport take off again following the COVID-19 pandemic.

The EIA is partnering with investment attraction company Edmonton Global, which is asking all 15 municipal members to chip into the three-year initiative. Edmonton is expected to contribute the most with $9.88 million.

Leduc County Mayor Tanni Doblanko said the airport is an economic driver for the area for industries such as tourism, logistics and warehousing so it made sense to support the initiative.

“We rely on them a lot,” she said. “Despite the pandemic, our warehousing and logistics industry increased by 52 per cent. The opportunity for diversification is there. We know that. We need the airport to be viable, to be strong, not only for our municipality to continue to grow and prosper but for the rest of the region.”

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The airport has suffered significantly during the pandemic as a result of lost international flights because Edmonton wasn’t selected by the federal government as one of the four entry points into Canada.

The airport made $128 million less in revenues in 2020 compared to 2019 and lost 39 direct flights, now only offering 13 compared to 52 before the pandemic.

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The airport recorded a net loss of $89.3 million in 2020 and passenger demand fell by 68 per cent compared to the year prior. In some months, demand fell by 95 per cent. Due to the reduced revenues, operations budgets were cut by $50 million and the workforce was reduced by 30 per cent.

The new fund would be used solely for the purpose of maintaining existing direct flights and attracting new flights, not to attract retail or commercial or industrial investment to the airport lands.

Doblanko said the county was very concerned for the airport following such a dramatic change in business.

“It has an impact on us,” she said. “We know (planes) bring in a lot of cargo…that comes in at night and we also know the bellies of the passenger planes are full of cargo as well. By having them have that drastic cut, it would also mean there would be less opportunity for that kind of warehousing for us. (The fund) was an opportunity to step up and we believe really show leadership in the region.”

With voters heading to the polls in October, Doblanko said she believes residents will standby council’s decision to support the airport over the next three years. She said any additional commitments will be revisited after that.

— With files from Dustin Cook

jlabine@postmedia.com

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