Simcoe County to become majority LSRA airport owner as plans take shape for $65.9 million expansion

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Ontario Construction News staff writer

The County of Simcoe has approved the execution of agreements with the City of Barrie and Township of Oro-Medonte to purchase additional shares and become the majority owner of the Lake Simcoe Regional Airport (LSRA).

Effective Jan. 1, 2020, the county will own a 90 per cent stake in the Lake Simcoe Regional Airport, which is set to undergo rapid expansion in an effort to boost regional economic development, create jobs and grow commercial, passenger and commuter air traffic.

Plans are in the works for a three-phase, $65.9-million expansion of the facility, which will enhance its capabilities and could lead to future scheduled air services.

“Simcoe County is one of the fastest growing regions in Ontario, we’re the fourth most popular tourist destination and home to more than 16,000 businesses,” said Warden George Cornell.

“Our investment in the Lake Simcoe Regional Airport will allow us to capitalize on future opportunities that help drive our economic prosperity, create jobs and enhance transportation options for our residents. Our strong financial position allows the county to make this strategic investment, and we thank our partners at Barrie and Oro-Medonte for their commitment to advancing the airport’s long-term strategic plan.”

The County of Simcoe has held shares in the LSRA since 2014. In August, County Council approved the acquisition of an additional 50 shares from the City of Barrie and 20 shares from the Township of Oro-Medonte, which will see the County of Simcoe become the majority shareholder. The City of Barrie will continue as a key joint owner holding a 10-per-cent stake in the regional airport.

lsra site runway map

In June 2018, airport shareholders approved a new Strategic Plan for the LSRA, which presented a three-phase plan focussed on developing infrastructure, including a runway expansion from 6,001 to 7,000-feet, to allow for greater aviation activities.

According to the strategic plan, the rational for re-examining the LSRA role was to “address a number of opportunities, and threats, including some that were not present, even two or three years ago.” These include:

  • The Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) has stated that Toronto-Pearson International Airport cannot accommodate forecasted travel demand for the region, even with proposed infrastructure improvements. Excess demand must be accommodated among the surrounding regional airports;
  • The catchment population within Simcoe County and City of Barrie has achieved a threshold where it can support scheduled air service;
  • Corporate aviation, which is currently centred at Toronto-Pearson, is gradually being pushed out to regional airports as the GTAA focuses on its vision of becoming an international mega-hub airport; and
  • Other municipalities located on the fringe of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) are making significant investments in their local airports as a means of positioning themselves for future economic growth and competitiveness.

“Lake Simcoe Regional Airport has come to an important crossroad. With projected capacity constraints at Toronto-Pearson Airport, the Airport has an opportunity to capture an increase in corporate aviation activity,” the report concluded.

Plans include a three-phase, $65.9-million expansion of the Oro-Medonte facility outlined to Barrie council on June 4.

The first phase includes an extension of runway 10-28 from the current 6,001 feet to 7,000. The runway would also be widened from 100 to 150 feet. Electronic and visual aids, including an approach lighting system, would be installed. And additional lands would also be acquired.

Phase two includes enhancements to charter service and the development of an economic impact study, among other initiatives.

The final phase would require construction of other infrastructure, including an air terminal.

Those in favour of the expansion say an airport “acts as an economic conduit for local businesses, in a manner similar to how Highway 400 brings tourists and goods to the area.”

The Lake Simcoe proposal is in development now because Toronto’s Pearson Airport anticipates it will reach capacity of 80 million passengers annually within the next 10 years. Pearson has indicated it would rather host wide-bodied aircraft while pushing corporate and regional flights to smaller Ontario airports.

“If Lake Simcoe remains ‘as is’, it is very unlikely the airport will be capable of serving the air travel demand that already exists or capitalize on additional potential opportunities. Remaining as ‘status quo’ will result in activity relocating to those airports surrounding the (Greater Toronto Area) that have the infrastructure in place to accommodate this impending demand.”

The county remains committed to expansion plan, which will allow LSRA to become a true regional commercial airport with the infrastructure and capacity to become a centre for corporate aviation and support regional domestic and international markets.

As one of 10 commercially significant regional airports selected by the Greater Toronto Airport Authority to form part of the Southern Ontario Airport Network, Lake Simcoe Regional Airport is also well-placed to support economic development needs on a larger scale.

The expansion will allow the county to meet forecasted demands in air service across Southern Ontario and increase the competitiveness of the region, province and country.

With attributes including various instrument approaches, on-site automated weather reporting, Avfuel branded FBO, continued Commercial Hangar Development and Commercial-Port of entry status for Canada Border Service Agency, the airport is an important aspect of the local economy, transportation infrastructure and a valued member of our growing region and communities.

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