Council endorses new Airport Incentive Framework

Encouraging continued growth of passenger traffic, improving the net operating margin and negotiating agreements for establishing new routes to and from the Lethbridge Airport are the primary goals of the new Airport Incentive Framework.

Lethbridge City Council on Tuesday voted 7-2 to endorse this framework and to approve the City Manager or designate to discuss potential agreements with airlines regarding future options for passengers flying in and out of Lethbridge.

As part of the resolution, Council also approved the creation of an initial fund, not to exceed $1 million, to facilitate negotiations with any interested parties. The work is to be funded through the Municipal Revenue Stabilization Reserve (MRSR).

"The approval of this framework touches on several key items outlined in Council's Action Plan for 2022, says Mayor Blaine Hyggen. "This includes the airport performance and governance evolution which will help us achieve the strategic goal of economic prosperity, so Council is thrilled to support of this incentive framework."

In August 2021, the previous City Council voted to keep managing the Lethbridge Airport as a City department with current management and contract services until the key triggers, as outlined in the business plan of the two consecutive years, of $500,000 net operating margin and 150,000 annual passengers are achieved. This governance structure will be reviewed every two years at the Economic Standing Policy Committee.

"Having City Council's leadership and support is essential as we have further conversations with airlines about the importance of future travel options at the Lethbridge Airport and positioning it as a regional hub," says Lisa Trent, Director of Corporate and Customer Services. "Since acquiring the airport in 2018, the City's goal has been to enhance and expand operations. Despite ongoing challenges with the pandemic, we are making great strides towards our goals."

This new Airport Incentive Framework is geared toward building on the City's $2.6 million investment, which was used to leverage an additional $23 million in Provincial and Federal grant funding, for a variety of critical infrastructure projects. Those projects are focused on increasing passenger traffic, revenue diversification through land development and fire safety – all to position the airport for pandemic recovery and future growth.

Further airfield and pavement rehabilitation upgrades include incorporating LED lighting to the airfield lighting system which will save on energy consumption and ongoing maintenance costs. All aspects are needed to attracted more airlines and larger aircraft to the region.

"When Council toured the airport renovations late last year, we were all encouraged by the progress that has already been achieved," says Councillor John Middleton-Hope, who introduced the motion to Council. "Tuesday's endorsement for the incentive framework is focused on continuing to bring further value to the airport moving forward."

Despite the ongoing challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Lethbridge Airport saw a 228 per cent increase in passenger movements in Q3 of 2021 when compared to the same period in 2020.

Further information on the new Airport Incentive Framework process will now be developed and shared with prospective partners going forward.

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