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Moose Jaw councillors admit they doubted success of airport

Board chairman Greg Simpson and vice-chair Jarrett Johnson spoke about the airport’s activities and upgrades over the past year during city council’s first 2023 budget discussion on Nov. 22. 
Airport authority 1
Greg Simpson, board chairman of the Moose Jaw Municipal Airport Authority (left) and Jarrett Johnson, board vice-chair, at a council meeting. File photo

MOOSEJAWTODAY.COM — The Moose Jaw Municipal Airport Authority has experienced such great success over the past couple of years that some city council members admitted they doubted the venue would ever succeed.

Board chairman Greg Simpson and vice-chair Jarrett Johnson spoke about the airport’s activities and upgrades over the past year during city council’s first 2023 budget discussion on Nov. 22. 

The authority wants $30,000 next year — same as this year — and $10,000 in cost-share money to develop its site master plan.  

Airport highlights

Some highlights from the authority’s presentation include:

  • A new 4,000-foot-long airstrip can accommodate Snowbirds and air ambulance planes; the former has engaged in daily exercises there, while the latter used the airstrip to save a two-year-old girl’s life
  • The airport houses 35 private airplanes in 15 hangars; a new hangar starts construction in 2023, while there is room for another six to 10 such buildings
  • Over 3,100 flights occurred there in 2022, an increase of roughly 2,170 flights — or 70 per cent — from 2015

Council’s mea culpa

“I have no problem sitting here admitting that I was one of those people that wasn’t sure that it was the right thing to do (to financially support the airport) and I love to see the proof in the pudding,” said Coun. Dawn Luhning.

“So congratulations to all of you for the work you’re doing out there and I can sit here and say I was wrong.”

Council is often asked to take a leap of faith to support big ideas, and sometimes the ideas fail while other times they succeed “beautifully,” said Coun. Heather Eby. She commended the authority for producing better results than council thought possible.

“And I know it’s going to get bigger and better,” she added. “… it is because you both came in here so passionate about it all the time that we couldn’t not believe that you were going to do what you said you were going to do.”

Mayor Clive Tolley applauded the board for showing wisdom in planning for the venue’s future. He noted that the airport is on a large piece of city land that the board manages. He thought it was smart for the board to develop a site plan to maximize space.

The authority doesn’t want to saddle future boards with poor decisions made now, so the master plan allows it to focus on the bigger picture and properly use the land, said Johnson. 

“I’ve supported this right from the get-go because I can see the potential in this, and you’re following through on everything you said you would do,” said Coun. Crystal Froese. 

It’s great that the board is pursuing a site plan because that creates ideas and helps it understand what’s going on in the industry, especially with travelling, business and tourism, she continued. She thought it was important that the board work with flying clubs to attract tourists, while the Snowbirds landing there regularly also created opportunities.

The board is working on a marketing plan to attract people, including advertising in industry magazines, said Johnson. Many people will not fly into larger centres but will stop in Moose Jaw. The authority also wants to engage with tourism at multiple levels and work with community boards.

The airport is seeing two to five new planes land per week, while flights from Vancouver are now landing here, he added. Meanwhile, a national industry magazine plans to feature the airport in an upcoming article.

A national flying organization wants to hold an event in Moose Jaw that would attract over 100 planes, but the authority doesn’t have the proper land developed, said Simpson. The master plan would inform that development, while the authority needs to work with local tourism officials on future opportunities. 

The airport — not just a private club — will create “a very large economic spinoff” for Moose Jaw because there is no provincial bus service anymore, said Coun. Doug Blanc. He noted that many people stayed in Moose Jaw for the Snowbirds’ 50th-anniversary reunion and want to return — and the airport will facilitate that.

The next budget meeting is Wednesday, Nov. 30. 

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