Expanding air service in Brandon would occupy a “permanent spot” on Rick Chrest’s agenda if he is elected mayor.
Chrest sent out his third platform media release on Thursday, where he states that the daily WestJet service between Brandon and Calgary is a significant success, however, the effort should be “far from over.”
“Westman still lacks any vital routing to points east. There is no doubt in my mind … that a flight between Brandon and Toronto will be equally successful. We must continue to press this issue,” Chrest states.
Keeping the issue “top of mind” is important, Chrest said, and he suggests bringing in wider participation from the greater Westman area.
“The air service is servicing a much larger area than just the City of Brandon,” he said. “Can we crank up the market reporting so to speak, to make sure that they know?”
In response to Chrest’s release, Mayor Shari Decter Hirst said air service, terminal expansion and adding an eastern route is already a “front and centre” priority for the city and securing daily air service has been one of the significant accomplishments of this council.
WestJet Encore began offering daily air service between Brandon and Calgary in Brandon last summer. Decter Hirst had a major role in the city’s efforts to woo the airline. A petition was launched, which garnered more than 10,000 signatures, creative campaigns were developed and a group of city representatives travelled to Calgary to present a business case to the airline in June 2012.
Decter Hirst has said adding an eastern route to Brandon is a “critical piece.”
“I’m greatly encouraged by the success that we’ve had with the western route and we’ve been working just as hard behind the scenes,” she said. “I hope to have an announcement in the very near future.”
The mayor called Chrest’s latest release a motherhood policy statement — something that few would disagree with.
As for bringing in the wider Westman region, the mayor says that’s already been happening.
“We’re very grateful for the very strong support that we’ve had both from Westman residents as well as local government representatives ... because they have absolutely been instrumental in our lobbying efforts.”
The city has always positioned the local airport as “Westman’s regional airport,” she added.
Expansion of the airport terminal is crucial, and Chrest called it a “very cramped, inefficient operation.”
“No doubt the expansion of the terminal will help the proposition in attracting further flight connections,” he said.
The city has recognized that the McGill Field airport terminal needs to be expanded, and has proposed a major
$8.8-million overhaul. The plan is to expand it to three times its current size, in order to better accommodate daily air service currently provided by WestJet and potentially attract service growth.
Included in the plans are a dedicated check-in area, spacious boarding lounge, additional space for security screening, separate arrivals area, new baggage carousel and improved network connectivity via fibre optic installation.
The city submitted its application for the federal government’s New Building Canada Fund about four months ago, and is still waiting for approval.
In the early 1980s, Chrest was involved with a committee that helped to secure daily jet service between Brandon, Calgary and Toronto via Pacific Western Airlines. The east-west jet service stayed in Brandon for several years, however it was eventually lost due to changes in air carrier policies and turmoil in the air industry.
“We cannot let that happen again,” Chrest said.
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Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition August 15, 2014