Statistics Canada says itinerant flights to and from Hamilton airport fell in 2013 for the seventh consecutive year. The trend seems likely to continue this year as direct flights to another large Canadian city have been quietly discontinued. Meanwhile the aerotropolis boundary expansion that was launched on anticipated airport success heads back to the Ontario Municipal Board to determine which agricultural lands will be converted to future industrial or other urban uses.
The main passenger flights out of Hamilton are operated by WestJet with two daily routes to Calgary on a year–round basis, and several other destinations offered from May to October. This year Winnipeg was quietly dropped from the list, leaving only Moncton, Halifax and Edmonton as seasonal additions.
The media release on the summer schedule didn’t mention the removal of Winnipeg, and the media coverage at the time didn’t make note of the change. WestJet once offered direct flights from Hamilton to Ottawa, Montreal, Thunder Bay and other Canadian destinations but most of those disappeared several years ago.
The annual Statistics Canada report released last week records 25,253 itinerant flights (those between Hamilton and another airport) last year. That’s about 1200 less than in 2012 and a drop of more than 20,000 since 2006. It’s also far below the 35–50,000 taking place in the 15 years before the privatization of the airport in 1995.
In the last decade, Hamilton’s ranking among the 41 airports with Nav Canada towers has fallen steadily from 24th to 35th. In the same period the annual number of local flights leaving and returned to the Mt Hope facility also fell by more than 20,000.
The story at the London airport parallels Hamilton’s – a drop of 48 per cent between 2009 and last year, but that still leaves that south–western Ontario regional airport handling 13,000 more itinerant flights than Mt Hope. In contrast, the Waterloo region airport itinerant flights have declined less than 2000 to just over 45,000 last year – a rate slower than the national decline.
Itinerant flight numbers have been falling slowly across the country and are down about 4 per cent since 2009, but have continued to rise at major facilities like Toronto, Montreal, Calgary and Edmonton. One of the fastest growing has been the Toronto Island airport that climbed from 58,000 in 2009 to nearly 87,000 itinerant flights last year.
The 2004 airport master plan projected 72,000 itinerant flights a year by 2010, climbing past 80,000 in 2015 and hitting 90,000 by 2020. Forecasts like these were a central argument for the development of a massive industrial business park around the airport variously called the aerotropolis or the Airport Employment Growth District (AEGD).
Tradeport International, the private company holding a 40–year management lease on the airport, has also been a big booster of the aerotropolis. Tradeport was part of the 2001 corporate focus group that originally recommended it.
Initially planned at over 4000 acres, the AEGD was reduced to barely 1700 acres by opposition from both the provincial government and local citizen groups. An OMB decision last July finalized the size at 695 gross hectares, but left the exact boundary location to be determined by additional hearings.
Those now appear likely to start on March 9, 2015 and are anticipated to take four weeks. The length reflects demands of multiple major landholders arguing their lands are better suited to residential development – something the city argues vehemently will not be permitted in the AEGD.
Other large landowners want to be included in the urban boundary expansion, but the dismal performance of the airport that is supposed to lure new industries is unlikely to be discussed during the hearings. V