By RENE J. ROY
STEPHENVILLE – Gudie Hutchings, MP for Long Range Mountains, visited the Stephenville airport last Friday, Aug. 13. Fortunately she was bringing good news and not bad luck to airport manager Lew Short.
The Government of Canada launched the Regional Airport Transportation Initiative (RATI) this past March, and Hutchings was on hand to announce $150,000 in non-repayable support. Via teleconference, Hutchings says the RATI program was part of COVID relief funding.
“We had heard from airports how they had been devastated, their revenues had been cut, and this was one of the programs that was announced to help businesses – in this case airports – get back on their feet.”
The amount each regional airport receives through the program varies based on income. For example, the Deer Lake airport received approximately three million dollars, a difference that has raised a few eyebrows. Hutchings says when the program was initially announced, she began looking at her own region.
“We knew, of course, Deer Lake had a straightforward formula, but I did reach out and said, ‘Is there any way we can look at this formula to see if we can get help to Stephenville?'”
Short explains that, “When the initiative was announced, ACOA (Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency) looked at what airlines were flying out of what respective airports. So at the time this was announced, we did not have a scheduled airline operating out of Stephenville. Therefore when they did their calculations, they looked at Deer Lake, and there would have been probably five or six air carriers. Then they looked at Stephenville and there would have been no scheduled air carrier.”
“(It) Certainly helps with daily operations as we work towards attracting another scheduled air carrier,” continued Short. “It provides us with a good boost, certainly, in keeping airport operations ongoing.”
Hutchings added that when she called Short initially, he was quite surprised.
“He didn’t think he was going to get anything through the RATI funding, but I said ‘Nope we worked some magic and you were able to get this $150,000 based on the seasonal traffic.'”
Short says that the amount the Stephenville Airport Corporation received is on par with Charlo Airport in New Brunswick.
“Charlo is very similar to our operation. They did not have a scheduled carrier, so they were in the same situation we were, and they received the exact same amount we did.”
Hutchings admits concern over misconceptions appearing on social media.”The record needs to be made straight. This was based on a formula that was put in place, and I’m delighted to see Stephenville get some funds out of this program. I look forward to seeing what Lew is going to do with that money towards getting new routes in Stephenville”
Short agrees. “There’s a lot of misinformation out there, and the formula that was adopted by ACOA, in the distribution of the funds, was fair.”