By Andrew Macdonald
“We know that our visitors expect convenience and choice. Commercial flyers shouldn’t have to drive 3 ½ hours after landing in Halifax. A visitor who spends less time getting to their destination has more time to explore Cape Breton. This is one more step in Cape Breton’s evolution as a world-class destination.”
– Website formed to endorse Cabot Links plan for an $18 million airport in Inverness. (see separate story on the website backing the Inverness Airport – including ex-Maritime premiers endorsing the controversial project.
A leading international aviation executive is panning the idea that Cabot Links can attract regularly scheduled commercial air flights into a proposed controversial airport in Inverness.
The airport project is being supported by Rodger Cuzner, the soon to retire Liberal MP for Cape Breton.
Cuzner says the Inverness project can attract commercial air flights – think Jazz, Air Canada, West Jet and Porter – something he says is not happening at the Port Hawkesbury Allan J. MacEachen Regional Airport.
Cuzner backs tax paying dollars going towards the $18 million Cabot Links plan.
I spoke to a leading global aviation executive, who did not want to named in my news article.
The aviation exec is panning the very notion commercial scheduled flights could be had at an Inverness project.
“Going to the Port Hawkesbury’s airport is no problem – it is only one hour and 12 minute drive to Inverness” says the aviation exec.
“That is the equivalent of driving from many airports into downtown. If you are at Pearson and you come in at certain times of the day, you can expect it could be an hour to commute to Downtown Toronto”, the aviation industry exec tells The Macdonald Notebook.
“An hour drive is not a big deal in the big world”, he points out.
Cabot Links wants government money for a plan to build an $18 million airport.
“It’s one thing to build an airport, but it is a completely different thing to run an airport”, he tells me.
“Halifax Stanfield is not a large airport – it’s a large airport for Atlantic Canada, but not a large airport (in global terms)”, the exec says.
“The infrastructure that goes into maintaining it, from lighting, snow plowing, buying emergency response vehicles, fire trucks. If they don’t have that infrastructure Stanfield would only have private planes landing there. No one is going to fly a scheduled flight in there at all if they didn’t have that infrastructure”.
Soon to retire Cape Breton MP Rodger Cuzner backs the Inverness airport plan, suggesting it will nab commercial airplanes on a scheduled basis.
“Well, there is no scheduled service at the Yarmouth Airport, in Nova Scotia. And that airport is larger than Inverness and larger than Port Hawkesbury, and sits isolated – and they have no scheduled services”, the global aviation exec tells me.
“I don’t see a scenario that someone is going to fly in a scheduled flight, when you have an airport an hour south of it in Port Hawkesbury, and another airport in Sydney”, the exec says.
“I don’t know who would fly a scheduled flight into Inverness”, the aviation player adds.
In Quebec, the small airport in Tremblant does have an Air Canada scheduled flight.
“I would expect that Tremblant is paying a large portion of the cost in that flight in there on a scheduled basis – and Porter did it as well”, says the global exec.
“But that is a large facility – there are flights a couple of times a week and it is an established airport (catering) to more people skiing than you would have on a golf course”, he says.
“I don’t see why anyone would fly a scheduled flight into Inverness. To build an airport on the possibility of scheduled flights – you need to go talk to the people in Yarmouth because they down graded the airport”.
It’s been years since Air Canada or Jazz landed in Yarmouth, which in recent years de-certified from a public commercial scheduled airport, becoming a private airport – to save substantial costs associated with running a public airport – and Yarmouth now just handles private planes, the military and search and rescue and emergency flights.
“Yarmouth understands the chance of them getting commercial schedules service in there is not going to happen – so there is no reason to maintain an airport to the standards needed for commercial flights”, says the industry exec.
On the idea the Cabot Links airport plan would cost $18 million, the exec has questions: “The question there, is that the construction cost?”
“Because if it is the construction cost, that is one thing. Then you get into maintaining the runways, maintaining the lighting system, you will need a navigation system, because there is fog in Inverness, just like any where else in Nova Scotia, but certainly on the coast”, he tells me.
“Coming into Halifax, and Halifax versus Shearwater is completely different, because of the weather, because coastal airports, and Yarmouth is one of them, are so difficult because of the fog”, he adds.
“In order to offset that, you will need a navigation system, a navigation system is very expensive, and has to be maintained in order to have reliable airport – and Nav Canada has to agree to maintain it, because they are ultimately responsible for all the navigation in Canada”, he says.
“Then you need things like fuel trucks and a re-fueler, you need all those things that Port Hawkesbury is doing, including a ground power unit. And you need heaters and coolers for overnight plane visits”, he tells me.
“That equipment has to be maintained and Port Hawkesbury is doing that. I think your reports said they had 1,000 fights in the last year. That is a large number of flights – I’d be shocked if Inverness could get even close to that”, he says.
“The guys in Port Hawkesbury are probably doing well, but I bet none of them are driving Rolls Royces because that is a tough business”, he adds.
The Port Hawkesbury airport is operated by commercial pilot Dave Morgan, on behalf of its owner, the Town of Port Hawkesbury.
Morgan has poured $2 million into upgrading the airport, including building a new lobby and admin building – and he has operated the airport since 2017.
But, Morgan tells The Macdonald Notebook the Port Hawkesbury airport has not yet turned a profit.
“There not profitable with a 1,000 flights? So, why would you expect it would be profitable for someone else. Which means Cabot Links will have to do it themselves, and if they do it themselves they will be looking for money to support it”.
“If you already have an airport, then you might ask for another $1 million to install ground handling systems – if you already put $18 million in, give me another $1 million and turn it into another one of these project’s that has no (financial) end to it”, says the aviation exec.
There are more capital costs to maintaining an airport where Jazz, Air Canada, West Jet and Porter land, compared to private airport which only carters to Challenger & Lear and Gulfstream jets, says the aviation player.
“Is $18 million the construction cost or operating cost of the airport? Whether they are going to be at a scheduled service or be a private airport level – it is expensive to run an airport if you are expecting scheduled service, and if that $18 million includes all that, I’d be surprised”, he tells me.
“That is a question for Cabot Links”.
So, I reached out to Cabot Links on that question, and they did not response with an answer – I made that request Thursday.
“If the $18 million is just the capital costs of putting the runways in, and taxi ways, that is one thing, but the lighting needs to be maintained, as does the navigation system, and the fire and rescue, and snow plows”.
“They will have to (pay) people to keep birds off the runway, plus bears”.
“There are all these myriad of costs that need to go into an airport – and clearly at Ron Joyce’s Fox Harb’r are doing that – but they did that privately with their airport”, says the exec.
While billionaire Warren Buffet on at least two occasions flew his private jet to Port Hawkesbury, to golf at Cabot Links, 80% of the golfers land at Halifax Stanfield, and drive for 3.5 hours to get to Inverness.
“The reality is that if you want to get people into Inverness, Halifax has the easiest way to get there, because you can book online or through a travel agent, and you can fly right in, and you get your baggage checked and the only thing you have to do is rent a van, and drive 3.5 hours to get there”, says the aviation exec.
“If you are going to complicate it by saying you can only charter your airplanes in there, and a schedule of one or two days a week, like Quebec is, then you really restrict it, because most of the people will go on a day they have a flight”, he says.
“I personally don’t think it is a big deal to drive an hour, two hours of four hours to get to a place – you have to do that every where in the world, if you go some where, there is always a drive”, says the exec.
Cabot Links co-owner Mike Keiser has a highly rated golf course in Oregon – and the nearest airport is a 30 minute commute – but his golf course there is very successful from media accounts. (see separate story on that).
“They choose to build Cabot Links far away from transportation links”.
The aviation exec suggests the Inverness airport would only operate seasonally – closing down in the winter.
“When I read your stories, what amazed me, that you need to be that much closer to the golf course, that people can’t drive the hour from Port Hawkesbury – which has all the aviation infrastructure – and the airport is already there”, says the global aviation exec.
“If he wants to do it privately no problem – but if he wants to put more federal and provincial money into an airport, when we already have airports in the province that are under utilized – it would amaze me the province would even consider it”, he says.
“An hour drive to get to a golf course is nothing”, the global aviation expert tells The Macdonald Notebook.