On airport consolidation, think very carefully
I’m on the record as a skeptic about the potential of merging all New Brunswick airports into one and plunking it down in Sussex. I’m not ruling it out as a good idea but I think a lot of work needs to be done to determine if it would on balance be good for the whole population.
First off, I know people love to talk about how much ‘infrastructure’ we have in New Brunswick. Relative to population size, we have the most KMs of four-lane highway, we have 64% more hospitals (see the chart). Theatre and sports facilities? Nearly twice as many as the national level, adjusted for population size. Heck, we even have 70% more churches than we should relative to population size. That sector, too, could use some consolidation.
It is true that we have more airports with schedule air services than we need relative to population size.
But don’t automatically jump to consolidation as the solution.
What is the strategy?
The vision for air transportation in this province should be that it is convenient and relatively affordable for business and leisure travel. There should be competition for the air travel business to ensure competitive prices and relatively good quality service.
There are several thousand companies in New Brunswick that generate export revenue from other provinces or countries. Many of these firms need to get on a plane to meet with customers, for sales, etc. We are going to attract 7,000+ immigrants per year - how will most arrive in the province? Not on horseback. And those tens of thousands of immigrants that want to visit their families back in the home country? How are they going to get there? How about the thousands of international students enrolled in our schools?
We are more globally connected than ever before and any changes to the air transportation system should support that reality.
Would a single consolidated airport do the following:
Reduce, on average, total travel time? The argument is that you spend an hour or 1.5 hours in your car but that total travel time on average would be less with a single airport. That hypothesis would need to be proven. If the airlines just continue to hub people into Toronto and Montreal, then all we have done is added time to the trip.
Add more routes, including US destinations? Even with a single airport, would it be large enough for U.S. preclearance? I think it is doubtful we could get this but if we could and if one or more airlines would commit to regular U.S. service that would be a benefit. In terms of other routes, the same applies. The airlines always prefer to triage people through hubs. Yes, with a single airport in Sussex there might be enough demand for a daily flight to Vancouver but I am very skeptical any airline would do it.
Reduce, on average, the cost of travel? With a consolidated airport you are adding the cost of the trip to/from the airport and for many people the cost of parking a vehicle. If you live 10-15 minutes from an airport you can take a taxi. In a consolidated airport that means only residents of the Sussex metropolis. Again, would this increased cost be offset by lower costs arising from a single airport? I’m somewhat skeptical.
Would it help with the air cargo sector?
And what about the population living 2 hours or even 3 hours from the new consolidated airport in Sussex? Yes, folks in Yarmouth need to commute to Halifax but it would be a bitter pill for the folks in northeastern NB.
Frequent readers of my blog will know I actually have advocated for more airports in New Brunswick - one more in particular - in Edmundston. Right now folks in that region of the province face a fairly long commute into Quebec or New Brunswick to reach an airport with daily scheduled services.
In my mind I could conceive of a day when there is one large airport with an excellent driverless shuttle service covering the whole province. The person in Neguac orders a shuttle, it arrives at 8 am and goes on to pick up a few more passengers, they settle in and sleep on the drive, arrive at the SUX international airport by 11 am, on the flight by 12 and via a direct flight are in Vancouver by 2 pm (local).
The problem with that is they could also be in Vancouver by 6 pm in the current system: get up drive to Bathurst get on a flight to Toronto, change gates, get on the flight to Vancouver and be there by 2 pm.
Airlines would love one airport in New Brunswick.
Provincial and federal governments would love one airport.
Persons who would be better served from a single airport in Sussex would love one airport.
But a decision of this magnitude needs serious thinking. It requires a 100 year view. How will it impact investment decisions? After 30 years of working with site selection companies, I can tell you that proximity to an airport is a very important consideration for national and international companies looking to invest here.
There is no doubt that a single international airport in Sussex would forever change the destiny of that town and region. If history is any guide, dairy town would eventually become a large metropolitan area.