A survey has determined there is an appetite for regular passenger flights out of the Wiarton Keppel International Airport.
The survey conducted in February found that more than 57 per cent of respondents would be “extremely or very likely” to fly from the airport in Wiarton to Toronto if the service was provided.
“There is interest from the region for scheduled passenger flights,” said Rick Winters, acting Chief Administrative Officer and Director of Operations with Georgian Bluffs. “It is very encouraging.”
The survey also found that 77 per cent of respondents travel to Toronto for business at least once a year, while 28 per cent travel seven or more times a year. Nearly all respondents indicated they travel to Toronto for leisure, with 30 per cent visiting seven or more times a year.
The survey also gauged the amount of times travellers head to destinations like Montreal, Ottawa, New York and Florida both for business and leisure.
“We had looked at just going to the GTA for scheduled flights, but there may be more of an interest for other destinations such as Montreal, New York, Florida and what-not,” said Winters.
The survey, done by Georgian Bluffs with the assistance of Georgian College and Think Compass, had expected a response of about 400, but received 2,300 responses and 23,000 shares on social media.
“We are quite impressed with what we got for sample size,” said Winters.
The survey also delved into flight pricing, and found that 48 per cent of flight respondents would be willing to pay between $100 and $199 for a return flight to Toronto Island Airport. A total of 45 per cent of respondents said they would be willing to pay more than $400 for a return flight to Florida.
More than half of respondents also said they would be willing to pay $200 for a one-way ticket to Toronto if parking was free at the airport in Wiarton.
Winters said the next step will be to go to the air carriers to see if they would be interested in establishing a scheduled flight out of Wiarton, something they have already started to do.
“At the end of this month we are going to meet with a gentleman that has a current company who we would like to see if we can sit down, present our findings to him and get his thoughts,” said Winters. “We are reaching out to some of the large air carriers as well to supply some expertise from their staff moving forward with where we go. We have to be cautious because we only want to do it once and we want to do it right.”
Winters said there are are already some local businesses who charter planes in and out of Wiarton.
“Even last week we are starting to get charters up from Pearson International as well,” said Winters. “There are flights happening but they are not scheduled on a regular basis. You have to charter the whole plane versus just buying an individual seat.”
Winters said he has felt there is a need in the community for regular flights to Wiarton and the survey backs that up.
“The key to us with getting scheduled passenger service is it opens up all kinds of funding opportunities through the federal government,” said Winters.
Respondents were also asked to indicate other services that would encourage them to use the airport in Wiarton. Among the services suggested were a shuttle/taxi service, restaurant, stores and a hotel. Services such as free wifi, sightseeing, duty free, tours and a comfy lounge were suggested, while direct flights, cheap flights and convenient connections were also drawing cards. Full survey results can be viewed at https://skyvv.ca
Think Compass, which has extensive experience in generating economic development through strategic planning and marketing, is developing an investment and attraction strategy for the airport. They are also expected to use the results from the survey to build a business case and carry out consultations with different airline companies.
“We have had investors at the airport that have come from Egypt and Mexico within the last month, so there is a lot of interest at the airport and a lot of things moving forward,” said Winters. “Hopefully one of these things finally clicks and we see the development we had hoped for.”
Since taking over sole ownership after it purchased South Bruce Peninsula's 50 per cent stake in the airport in 2015, Georgian Bluffs has been working toward attracting new investment and development at the facility.
The old terminal building at the airport was purchased and renovated by the municipality and now houses a restaurant, called the Flying Diner, while Bruce Peninsula Transit has also been operating a depot at the airport.
The municipality has also approved a strategic plan for the facility. Under the plan, Georgian Bluffs envisions the airport becoming an aviation hub for the Grey-Bruce region, serving leisure, corporate, business and recreational users.