A city–funded study of the airport says the weight of cargo shipments from the airport is less than one–fifth what was reported to council last summer by the private managers of the facility and is actually below 1998 levels. The latest flight numbers at Mt Hope have also now reached the lowest point this century, but a report adopted by council last week forecasts spending another $10.8 million buying land for future expansion of the struggling airport.
The economic impact study completed by InterVISTAS in February for the city and Tradeport International shows “total air cargo tonnages” at 76,000 tonnes in each of 2012 and 2013. That’s a stark contrast to the 398,000 tonnes that Tradeport reported last August when the company presented its 2012 report to city council.
As passenger numbers have plummeted over the last decade, cargo activity has repeatedly been presented as the airport’s saving grace, but the InterVISTAS study shows only one year since 2006 when tonnages exceeded the 80,000 level achieved in 1998. That was in 2010 when it climbed to 87,000 tonnes. Last year’s level was identical to 2007 and 17 per cent lower than the peak in 2002.
Part of the reporting disconnect appears to be how Tradeport determines cargo traffic. While the new study lists tonnage actually shipped, the airport management company reports “landed weight” which apparently includes the weight of the aircraft as well as what it might be carrying.
This curious practice was described as unique and “bizarre” in a late 2012 study prepared for the citizen groups who opposed the aerotropolis urban boundary expansion at the Ontario Municipal Board. Richard Gilbert contended that using maximum takeoff weight of cargo/courier aircraft “may say little about the actual level of cargo activity”.
The InterVISTAS study also calculates that employment associated with the airport has dropped about 16 per cent since 2009 to just over 1100 full–time equivalent positions. It estimates inflation–adjusted total economic impact has declined from just over $500 million in 2002 to $357 million last year.
The most recent flight numbers issued by Statistics Canada show just under 1700 take–offs and landings in January of flights between Mt Hope and another airport. That’s the lowest monthly total since at least the beginning of the century and down nearly a third from January 2010. The competing regional airports in both Waterloo and London report higher flight numbers than Hamilton’s.
There’s been a flight drop nearly every month for several years, continuing a trend that Gilbert suggested could result in no flights at all by 2020. Despite these declines, the city is pursuing a twenty–year land purchase for the airport.
“The city plans to purchase additional land for expansion of the airport service totalling $10.8 million,” states a development charges review study formally adopted at last week’s meeting of the general issues committee. “Of this total, $2.7 million is planned to be spent in the post 10–year period therefore, $8.87 million has been included in the current 10–year forecast period.”
That’s on top of over $10 million already spent acquiring 308 acres at an average price of $56,000 an acre since Tradeport took over the airport. To date, none of the land has actually been used for expansion and a promised 2012 start on a longer runway now has no implementation schedule and no regulatory approvals even being sought.
The InterVISTAS study paints a hopeful picture for the airport, arguing that on–going airport “continue to make a considerable contribution to local employment and the provincial economy. The employment is remarkably strong given the loss of passenger traffic and integrator presence over the past number of years.” V