Brandon’s airport got its start in 1941 as flying school No. 12 under the Commonwealth Air Training Plan — now commemorated by a National Historic Site at the airport.
After the war, the school was closed, but volunteers like Ed McGill kept the facility operating as a civilian school. In 1948, it was officially renamed the Brandon Airport and McGill became manager of the facility in 1952.
Although still owned by the federal government, the city took over operation of the airport in 1970, and to recognize McGill’s years of service, the airport was redesignated McGill Field at the end of that year.
Through the 1980s, the airport hit its heyday, with regular jet service through Pacific Western, which later became Canadian Airlines.
That service ended in 1989, and the feds divested themselves of the land in 1995, passing full ownership of the airport to the city.
Although flights at the airport continued to be provided by smaller airlines like Perimeter and Bearskin, the city kept pursuing a return to longer-range service. WestJet conducted two trial runs out of McGill Field in 1999 and 2001, but the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 that year sent the airline industry into turmoil, and the trials were not repeated.
In 2004, the city entered into talks with both WestJet and discount carrier ZIP, owned by Air Canada. At one point that spring the city was reportedly just weeks away from an announcement, but nothing came of it.
After much wooing, however, WestJet Encore began flying a Brandon-Calgary route last September.
Now, the city has secured municipal and provincial funding commitments for a dramatic — and expensive — expansion to the terminal, which wasn’t designed for modern security or baggage requirements.
Late last month, the city also filed an application for federal funds to support the renovation, which would triple the size of the facility. A $5.35 airport improvement fee will be implemented in August to raise funds as well.
WestJet Encore has said that a Brandon-Winnipeg link, which would perhaps also include Thompson, is also being eyed, but that it is still years away.
» Brandon Sun