It is thrilling to finally see the subject of our beleaguered airport is finally getting some public attention after years of neglect at the hands of the County and City of Lethbridge. Towards this end a few observations:
1. The Chamber of Commerce is NOT a member of the Lethbridge Airport Committee. That privilege is reserved for the Mayor, the Reeve, and a few councillors from both the City and County.
2. When the terminal was built the facility was adequate if not great. Since then the demands for increased security have rendered it deficient and no longer ideal for the purposes to which it has been used.
3. Over the years the County has collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes from business located on the airport but has not seen fit to spend that money on improvements. Clearly there is a lack of priority by county management for maintaining an effective facility.
4. Allegiant Air does not fly internationally so no matter what is to be done to the terminal in Lethbridge they will never be flying in here. Moreover, even if they did decide to make an exception for our benefit and divert traffic away from their very popular Great Falls flights, Canada Border Services is not available for scheduled passenger flights as other operators have found out.
5. For some reason, when it comes to flying, nobody places a value on their time to drive to Calgary and back, the cost of parking, nor the increased risk of highway driving in summer or winter. The biggest reason people drive to Calgary is to give Air Canada the finger and fly on WestJet instead.
6. Air Canada is a horrendously bad company. When another carrier tried to operate a competing service between Lethbridge and Calgary, Air Canada engaged in the predatory practice of selling seats below cost. There is little reason to believe they would suddenly start operating in the public interest if someone did try to compete on the run.
7. The study referred to in the article is useless as far as gauging public demand for air services. That would require the use of scientifically-based polling methods and statistical analysis to be useful.
8. The cost of operating commercial flights in and out of Lethbridge Airport at not significantly greater than they are at Great Falls. However, steeper taxes on aviation fuel are significantly higher in Canada and that contributes to higher costs.
9. Other than Allegiant, who operate a discount model, flights into Great Falls from Salt Lake City, Settle and Denver are not “cheap” if you include currency exchange into the calculation.
10. The problems facing Lethbridge are more systemic than many people assume. In the USA, where the number of operators has consolidated significantly over the years, a number of secondary cities have seen huge reductions in their air services. Case in point: Many flights in and out of Colorado Springs have been lost as people are preferring to drive to Denver. Sound familiar?
The reason Great Falls is bucking this trend is quite simple: They work at it. You can see their ads in the Lethbridge Herald, on Facebook and even on digital signage on Mayor Magrath Drive. The reason they are able to make these kinds of business-based decisions is because they are governed by an independent airport authority. Meanwhile, Lethbridge airport is governed by a well-intentioned but never-the-less body of amateurs.