Anticipating growth in the area, Lac La Biche County Council says expanding the airport to accommodate larger planes and more passengers is one of the top priorities for the municipality.
Acting Mayor Gail Broadbent said Lac La Biche could become a real destination for industry and tourism if the airport were retrofitted with a longer, wider, and thicker runway that could handle bigger passenger jets. The county allocated $500,000 in the 2012 budget to evaluate the airport expansion.
“We’re expecting huge growth—and we want to be proactive and facilitate that growth,” Broadbent said at a meeting with MLA Shayne Saskiw earlier this month.
“Lots of people are flying ito the North for work and to play, but we’re not set up to accommodate that right now.”
Currently, the Lac La Biche airport is mainly used by water bombers and air ambulances. It can also accommodate small private aircraft.
A better airport, complete with a bigger terminal to accommodate more passengers, would make Lac La Biche more attractive for the oil and gas industry—who could use the community as a hub to fly workers in and out of camps. And council argued that tourism and overall population would increase, along with economic activity, if the community had a more modern airport.
Lac La Biche County is identified by the CRISP report, a long-term planning document for the oil sands region, as having major potential as a transportation hub. Because of the municipality’s proximity to the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range to the east, an unusually high amount of air traffic is routed over Lac La Biche County. But the airport, currently 6,000 feet long and 100 feet wide, isn’t big enough to handle bigger passenger jets like the 737.
The Canadian airline WestJet announced their plans to create a regional air network, flying to smaller destinations nationwide. Council expressed their desire to be a part of that network.
“We’re trying to plan for the future,” said Acting Deputy Mayor MJ Siebold. “As opposed to having to catch up later.”
However, Lac La Biche County still has some work to do before an expanded airport is a reality. The municipality wants to identify partners in the oil and gas industry, who could be a part of the planning for the redesign. The county also needs to figure out how to pay for the project, as it expected to cost several million dollars.
Finally, the county needs to do planning and feasibility studies to determine the final costs and construction timelines.
MLA Saskiw said he would see how he could help Lac La Biche provincially.
“This is something that seems very logical,” Saskiw said. “I’ll see what I can do to help get some political backing behind this.”