There were plenty of smiles, handshakes and slapped backs to go around at McGill Field on Tuesday as elected officials from three levels of government announced tripartite financial support for the city’s multimillion-dollar airport terminal expansion project.
Though both the city and province had announced months ago that they would share costs for two-thirds of the $8.8-million project, the final piece was put in place this week after Brandon-Souris MP Larry Maguire confirmed the federal Conservatives were on board for their one-third share, up to $2.9 million, under the New Building Canada Fund.
Premier Greg Selinger confirmed the province will provide up to $2.9 million — the same amount as the federal government — with the City of Brandon ponying up the remaining one-third of eligible costs, as well as any ineligible costs and costs overruns, for a contribution of $2,981,200.
This announcement comes nearly one year after WestJet Encore began daily flights in and out of Brandon last September, a financial decision that by all accounts has been a solid commercial success.
Westman residents have shown with their feet and with their wallets that they want to support an airline industry here in Brandon. Flights going in and out of Brandon have been full as locals travel between here and Calgary for business or to catch other connecting flights.
"Any day you come out there you can see it’s crowded," airport manager Tim Sanderson told the Sun yesterday. "Not a lot of empty seats on those planes — which is a good problem to have."
No wonder then that the federal and provincial governments signed on to beef up Brandon’s airport capacity.
For Brandon, this is very good news, and our elected officials have every reason to smile — especially Mayor Shari Decter Hirst,who is in the midst of an election campaign to retain the chains of office. Her somewhat over-the-top address to the crowd exemplified just how important this announcement is to her and her hopes for re-election.
"I want to welcome you to McGill Field," she said. "This is our field of dreams, and I say that because I believe that if we build it, they will come."
She also said an expanded airport terminal will be Brandon’s "doorway to the rest of the world."
Embellishments aside, once construction is complete — about 12 to 18 months after the shovels hit the ground in early spring of 2015 — Brandon’s mayor, council and administration will have good reason to be proud of this new facility, and of their accomplishment.
Though plans have yet to be finalized, the expanded terminal will be able to seat between 105 and 107 people, but with a sitting and standing room capacity accommodating close to 150. The ultimate design is meant to handle smaller Q400 turboprop traffic, but in a pinch it will be able to handle larger planes — though passengers might find it a bit crowded.
"The design standard is for a 737 aircraft," said Sanderson, who has been largely responsible for crafting the city’s funding application to the federal government. "It’s the low side of the standard.
"It’s pretty big for the Brandon market, but we want the ability to do that because it’s such a common aircraft."
Also, the new terminal has a design requirement to allow for future expansion to accommodate larger planes if and when commercial jet flights ever replace the turboprop plane currently flown by WestJet Encore. A lot of space has been left to the south of the planned footprint for the structure for such an expansion, as well as expansion possibilities for arrivals on the east side.
We simply cannot expect our city or region to grow without putting in place the infrastructure necessary to help it do so. A second Encore plane route — either east or a second western route — would simply not be feasible in the current aging structure, with its dated design and meagre passenger capacity, let alone any future jet traffic.
In our view, this seems to be a good plan that will service the industry that currently exists, while allowing Brandon the option to expand when it become necessary to do so. Perhaps that is optimistic thinking — saying when, not if — but this is one of those occasions when we think our public officials and city staffers may have got it right.
Let’s hope the process to build it goes as smoothly as the process to fund it. We certainly wouldn’t want our field of dreams to become a terminal nightmare.