There are 51 days left before the first WestJet aircraft takes off from the Brandon Municipal Airport.
And on the surface, it doesn’t look like there’s much work to be done — just a bit of "spit and polish," said Tim Sanderson, the city’s director of transportation services.
But the bare-bones terminal is in need of a facelift. It has been largely untouched since 1971 and still sports period-style orange waiting room pod seats — and not much else yet.
"It’s not the ideal setup," Sanderson told the Sun near a sky blue-coloured wall behind the empty check-in counter which remains the only significant indication of WestJet’s impending arrival. "But it works."
Throughout the city’s bidding process to bring the air service to the area, the airport was ready whenever WestJet decided to come to Brandon.
Ahead of the maiden voyage of the airline’s newly launched regional Encore brand, less than $50,000 has been put into the airport for wiring, painting, parking lot resurfacing and minor runway work, according to Sanderson. New check-in desks will be installed on the airline’s dime.
Those waiting to take off in the terminal may notice some quirks.
For instance, passengers waiting for their flight will have to exit through security to go to the washroom before going back through security. Checked baggage will also be handled near the security entrance instead of at the check-in desks at the other end of the terminal.
"Even with one flight a day, it’s going to be a bit crowded," Sanderson said.
Other kinks lie behind the scenes, such as the airport’s small baggage hold room, which will also see a significant upgrade, eventually, to appease airlines, he said.
"The passenger is not going to notice that, but it’s something for WestJet or for any other airline that’s coming in, that’s an important thing."
Once WestJet and the airport wrap up the honeymoon stage, the city can look closer at significant upgrades to the terminal. The city already has a $2-million airport redevelopment plan that will keep the same building envelope while rearranging passenger flow inside.
Sanderson also said he’s "fairly confident" a car rental company will also be introduced and parking outside the building will be free — at least for now.
According to the city, money for the major construction — which has no firm timeline — will come from its capital budget, but Brandon will also be on the hunt for provincial and federal funding for the redevelopment that will include a new baggage carousel, updated arrivals hall and passenger hold area (with washrooms, it assures), new furniture, new lighting, updated mechanical systems and anything else to keep WestJet happy.
Whether or not WestJet service expands in the next few years, Sanderson said, improvements have to be completed to grow Brandon’s airline service. As in the case of WestJet’s arrival, airlines interested in landing here base their plans on what an airport offers, not what it plans on offering.
"When they make their decision, it’s now," he said. "They look at the current abilities of the airport, not what we promise."
Despite all the work that needs to be done to the terminal, the airport has been readyfor commercial passenger service for a while.
Last year, the city purchased a $650,000 fire truck to handle its own airport rescue firefighting (ARFF), which no doubt helped sway WestJet.
"I don’t know if WestJet would be coming if we didn’t have ARFF service. We have all the proper equipment. And thankfully, all of our equipment is in good shape."
And after three years of steady commercial service, the airport will qualify for federal funding for emergency equipment, and one of the first things on its wish list — replacing outdated runway lights, a project that could cost as much as $2 million.
For now, the city doesn’t have plans to turn a significant profit from the airport, and it will remain revenue-neutral for the foreseeable future.
"We don’t see (WestJet) as the golden goose for the airport, we see it as the golden goose for the community at large, and we want to make sure WestJet is comfortable here," Sanderson said.
WestJet brings six part-time and one full-time jobs. The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority, which will set up in August, will have five part-time Garda Aviation Services employees to handle security, according to Sanderson.
WestJet spokesperson Robert Palmer said most of the customer service agents have been hired and will go through training next month, and the company has contracted out ground handling, which includes de-icing services and luggage transportation to and from the terminal and aircraft.
The neighbouring Brandon Flying Club is responsible for WestJet’s fuel service.
The airport itself will likely need to hire one more person, Sanderson said, bringing the modest operation to four employees.
"We run this place with three guys, four guys, maybe four and me, so we can run it lean and mean and keep everybody’s cost down," he said.