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Envision Edmonton wants to keep downtown airport open

A small but supportive group of local people met with Envision Edmonton at the Shaw House Friday to learn about its efforts to keep Edmonton City Centre Airport.
Andy Feher talks to a small audience at the Shaw House about Envision Edmonton’s efforts to keep the downtown airport open on Friday.
Andy Feher talks to a small audience at the Shaw House about Envision Edmonton’s efforts to keep the downtown airport open on Friday.

A small but supportive group of local people met with Envision Edmonton at the Shaw House Friday to learn about its efforts to keep Edmonton City Centre Airport.

"Right now the airport is about to close, and it's about to close very quickly," Andy Feher, of MKM, the company hired to market keeping the airport open, said. "Why close something that makes money and works?"

Current plans would close the downtown airport July 31, something Envision Edmonton and its allies are fighting to prevent by forcing a plebiscite. If Envision can get 80,000 Edmonton residents to sign a petition by Aug. 27, city council would hold a vote on the airport, something Feher said they're confident they would win.

"I'm impressed with the drive that they're putting into this and I hope they're successful," Mayor Ernie Isley said. "Not only does the airport have to stay open but it has to open to other communities."

Currently, only planes carrying 10 or less passengers from Fort McMurray, Peace River, Grande Prairie, and High Level can fly regular service to the airport. While Bonnyville can charter planes to Edmonton, it doesn't offer scheduled service.

Isley said the airport should be open to any community in the province and take planes with a capacity of 19, something he's been lobbying for with Commuter Air Access Network of Alberta.

"I think they're in an uphill battle but if they can get their 80,000 signatures and get a plain worded question on the plebiscite I think there's a good chance they'll win," he said.

"As an Edmontonian, I want to be able to serve the northern communities," Charles Allard echoed, chairman of Envision Edmonton. "I think we're doing the opposite of being good neighbours, good friends, and good customers to our northern communities. I think it would be a travesty to lose this jewel."

MKM has conducted several opinion polls as well as used focus groups to gauge its marketing campaign. Radio, television, and print ads were shown at the Shaw House and are in play as Envision tries to thwart the airport closure.

Envision wants to promote keeping the airport open to support medevac services and as the "gateway to the north." The group also says the airport contributes economically to Edmonton and that it is not competitive with the Edmonton International Airport, located 20 km outside the city.

Dr. Joseph Fernando from Edmonton attended the meeting. He said the fact that the airport is two minutes away from the Royal Alexandra Hospital is a good reason to keep the airport open. Around 4,000 medevac flights land at the city centre airport a year.

"They all come in because of the speed and the access of that airport," Allard said.

Feher said while a helicopter would transport emergency medevac cases from the International Airport to a hospital after closure, that the downtown airport provided the quickest route to the hospital. He added the helicopter service is unavailable in snow or fog, which he estimated occurs 60 days a year.

Feher admitted that collecting enough signatures to force a plebiscite would be difficult, but said negotiations were underway with a major union, which he declined to name. He said if the union comes on board and asked its membership to sign and promote the petition, finding enough signatures wouldn't be a problem.