Philosophy Hammer
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The Expansion of the Kingston Airport

By: James Jeff McLaren
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Opinion Piece on How Expanding the Airport Terminal is Necessary but not so the Runway

Expanding the airport terminal is critically important because the existing terminal is too small to accommodate the embarking and disembarking of passengers on to and off the new generation of planes. However, expanding the airport runway today is premature. It is like buying someone a car before they pass their driving test. The Kingston community must pass a critical test before airport expansion is fiscally prudent.

Our community is serviced by the aging Beech 1900D. This plane is nearing the end of its service life and will be replaced by newer DHC8-Q400s. Porter and West Jet are using the Q400s now and Air Canada has claimed that it plans to start using the Q400 inside of 10 years. These new planes are bigger and will need a larger terminal for smooth and safe operations. However, the Q400’s size is also a potential source of harm to Kingston’s continued air service.

The Q400 can use our current runway without any problem therefore the runway does not need to be extended to keep scheduled air service. The important issue for keeping air service is that the Q400 can carry more than 4 times as many passengers as the older Beech 1900D. We, as a community, need to fill those seats at (or close to) the same average fares as we do now in order to keep air service.

There are no more government subsidies to keep unprofitable air routes open. If any airline cannot fill seats to make its route profitable they will cut or eliminate service. This is the test that Kingston will face soon: can we increase the number of passengers by a factor of 4 while keeping a similar average fare as we have now?

It is certain that the new Q400s will offer a larger number of lower priced tickets. But these tickets do not make a route profitable. It is the regular premium high yield customers that make a route profitable. We must increase the proportion of high yield customers by 4 times to keep our current level of flight frequency.

Currently there are 7 flights out of Kingston daily using the Beech 1900D. If we had 4 Beech 1900D flying in and out of Kingston at the same time 7 times a day then we could say with confidence that Kingston can support the new Q400s without a loss of service.

However, assuming that the 7 current flights of Beech 1900D are full, moving those passengers onto Q400s will translate into 1 and 3/4 of a flight of Q400s. This represents a frequency loss if Air Canada were to introduce Q400s today. This loss in flight frequency is a loss in service and opportunities for the airport. Some high yield customers are only willing to pay the higher fees for the ability to save time to Toronto. This benefit is reduced with a loss of flight frequency. A loss of flight frequency will likely reduce the demand for airport services because it will marginally improve the appeal of car, bus, or train service to Toronto.

Despite the Q400 being a better airplane, a loss in flight frequency would hurt the airports bottom line. Our airport’s greatest sources of revenue are in its fees and charges such as landing fees. The airport is currently just making money; last year it lost money. Losing 5/7ths of its landing fees from scheduled air service reduction will necessitate more future tax supplementation.

If our community cannot fill the new Q400 seats profitably for any airline then we will lose regularly scheduled air service altogether. This need to fill new seats profitably is a test of decisive importance to the future of Kingston’s air service. If we will not have regularly scheduled air service then spending $16.1 million on expanding the airport will be wasted. $16.1 million is about a onetime 8% increase in municipal taxes. Additionally, there would be increased future operating costs that would be funded by tax dollars.

When this crisis point hits us, we need to save scheduled air service first. We need to save those jobs that depend on scheduled air service and the opportunities for economic development the airport affords us. I believe it is fiscally irresponsible to put us into debt without any guarantees that we will have use for the airport runway extension.

For these reasons, expanding the airport terminal is necessary to maintain regular air service however expanding the runway at this time is as wasteful as buying a car for someone who cannot drive. If Kingston can keep scheduled air service then a moderate expansion of the airport runway becomes worthy of consideration. Likewise, if someone important to us passes their driving test and earns their driver’s license then, and only then, does buying them a car becomes worthy of consideration.

Added on: Dec 9, 2015
By: James Jeff McLaren
© 2008 - 2018, James Jeff McLaren