The South Shore Regional Airport at Greenfield and surrounding areas could be racking up a bigger share of the billions of dollars airports contribute to local communities in Canada, according to Brian Pound, the Maritimes director of the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association (COPA).
Pound made the comment in an interview with LighthouseNOW shortly after touching down on the airport's nearly 4,000-ft landing strip in his Cessna 340 on October 13.
He was there as a participant at the South Shore Flying Club's (SSFC's) Fly-In event.
"I mean, you've got major assets here," said Pound. For these not to be fully "utilized," he added, "that's unfortunate."
Pound had said he was impressed by the airport's two precision GPS approaches for IFR (Instrument Flight Rule) or RNAV (Area Navigation) landings, which he estimated would now cost $12,000 to $15,000 to design and implement. As well, he remarked on the airport's fully functioning taxiway and runway, which he believes would cost more than $1 million if built today.
Barry Mercer, a SSFC director, said that was the purpose of the fly-in: to impress.
"Get the word out there. That's what we're trying to do. We're open for business. If somebody wants to come in and build a hangar, we welcome them," he said.
Pound advised that COPA recently produced a study highlighting the economic impact general aviation contributes to Canadian communities and the national economy.
The study compiled by Vancouver-based InterVISTAS estimates that general aviation operations in Canada contribute $9.3 billion in economic output nationally, and directly account for almost 36,000 full-time jobs.
The report also highlights the benefits aviation brings to communities in terms of tax revenues, and direct and indirect employment.
"Communities are very willing to support a swimming pool or a curling rink or a library, that sort of stuff. But they just don't see an airport, sometimes, on the same value," says Pound.
He noted there are numerous potential spin-offs to be had for the tourism, ground transport, and construction industries as well.
Pound was confident, given the right strategy, the Greenfield airport could be busier.
Not only is there a potential market with private pilots in the Maritimes, he said, "you'd also be looking at the Ontario and Quebec market."
He recalled how recently 23 private planes came into Summerside, PEI from the Montreal and Toronto area, and how he himself was on a tour with nine other airplanes travelling from Montreal to Digby, Charlottetown, and Saint Anthony's Newfoundland.
Another time, 60 pilots flew their planes into Charlottetown.
While he says the airport manager "didn't make a nickle," he noted: "But the mayor was there, the lieutenant-governor was there and all the tourism [industry people] were there. So they saw the economic value of spin-offs."
Pound suggested that if local hotels, bed-and-breakfasts, taxis and car rental services included Greenfield airport pick-ups, and if these services were advertised in the Canada Flight Supplement, that would go a long way to encouraging more pilots to land and park up at the airport.
Nonetheless he acknowledged the lack of a fueling system at the airport is "a big issue."
He says most smaller airports have systems where "you just put a credit card in and go." But he adds, "they're not cheap to do."
He estimates such systems range between $60,000 to $80,000.
Pound suggested the club could have a fuel tank for its own use with each member having a key or a code to unlock it.
He operated this sort of system for about 20 years at a small airport in Alberta, of which he was the manager. Pilots there would write down how much gas they got on a chit.
"If they were a club member, we billed them. And if they weren't a club member, we had one of those old sliding credit card systems and they would pay. We ran that for 20 years, and I don't think we lost a gallon of fuel....
"So that would be a cheap way to do it. Just to have a 5,000 gallon tank and a hose. That might be a start."
Routine flights at the 170-acre airport date back to 1970. At one point, the airport was home to the 38-member Liverpool Flying club, which offered flight training and aircraft rental to members.
A series of grants from Transport Canada assisted with a number of upgrades, including lengthening the airstrip from 3,000 feet to its current 3,937 feet. And there were improvements to the runway apron and runway and taxiway, aircraft parking and maneuvering area.
With a greater pavement load rating, the runway can now accommodate aircraft up to a Hercules C130 aircraft.
High-performance light jet aircraft, such as the Twin Otter DHC-6, Pilatus PC-12, and King Air 350 Citation, can also land and take off from the runway.
However, insurance costs and a fuel leakage ultimately led to the demise of activity at the airport. Its closure was imminent until, in 2015, the SSFC and the Nova Scotia Drag Racers Association struck 15-year lease management deals with the municipality allowing for the two organizations to share the space.
Pound said it would be helpful if more people understood that you don't have to be a millionaire to own an aircraft.
"In our flying club out in Charlottetown, as an example, we have nine airplanes that have partnerships in them - some as many as six partners in it.
"You can buy a nice single-engine airplane for $30,000 to $40,000. I mean, how much do you have in your snow machine? In your boat you've got $10,000, $15,000 tied up. These guys have got an $8,000 partnership in the airplane. They share the rent and the insurance and so they get to do their passion on a fairly economical basis."
Inclement weather forecasts prompted the SSFC to push the fly-in ahead by one day, which club members say possibly contributed to the fact less than a dozen planes arrived.
However, those pilots that participated were no less passionate about the airport's potential.
"The runway is probably in as good a shape as any runway in the Maritimes," enthused Peter Gow, a SSFC director.
Creighton Smith is a retired airline pilot who, along with his wife, travels from his home in Vermont to their property at Voglers Cove every fall. He parked his Europa plane at Greenfield for the first time.
While he admits to initially being skeptical about the quality of a runway that's been shared with a drag racing group, like Pound he was impressed.
"This is a real asset for the area," he emphasized to LighthouseNOW.
Smith noted how an appointment means he and his wife may have to head back to Vermont temporarily. And now they can easily fly for a day or two and then return.
"You couldn't do that with a car."
The SSRC aims to lease the abandoned Customs office that stands at the airport in April and begin cleaning it up for a club house. Members also want to take on some of the other property at the airport for hangars and establish a fuel system, which would encourage more pilots to land and park at the airport.
All of that will take time and money, the club members admit.
However, based on the enthusiasm of the pilots at the fly-in, the SSRC's Gow commented: "I think it tells the Region (of Queens) there is some interest."