Lake Simcoe Regional Airport enhancements real game changers for the industry

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Ontario Construction News staff writer

The Lake Simcoe Regional Airport’s unique business model and investments from local government have helped to fuel growth in the area, an LSRA Board report concludes.mo

At the onset of the pandemic, LSRA shifted gears to focus on enhancing commercial-aviation to further support the regional manufacturing sector and the movement of COVID-19 supplies. County officials quickly worked with area MPPs and MPs to reopen commercial border services at the airport and expand the critical role the LSRA plays in supporting our area businesses.

Over the past year, the County of Simcoe has started implementing the first phase of a strategic plan to support regional economic growth and attract new job opportunities around the airport.

“These investments since the change in ownership, have captured the attention of the corporate and commercial aviation industry, while enhancing the airport’s offering to the numerous essential service users,” said Brent Hill, LSRA board member and pilot.

“Our industry partners view these enhancements as real game changers, and continued upgrades will support in welcoming more planes, businesses and investment to the airport and region.”

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Two approved developments are the Oro Station Automotive Innovation Park​ and the MediCA Park development, an 83-acre advanced manufacturing campus which will focus on medical manufacturing facilities with an emphasis on medical, health-care and personal protective equipment in Oro-Medonte.

MediCA Park, envisioned as a vertically integrated campus of medical supply, research and testing facilities, will increase the province’s ability to respond to the pandemic and reduce reliance on external imports. Both developments are adjacent to LSRA lands and access to commercial and passenger air traffic and border services will be crucial to these two regionally significant business projects.

“County Council’s strategic decision to invest in the airport paid off immediately for local businesses who transitioned their models at the beginning of COVID to provide PPE supplies to regional, domestic and international markets,” said Warden George Cornell. “With the advancement of the MediCA Park and Oro Station Automotive Innovation Park, we are also beginning to see how the growth of the LSRA will support the needs of current businesses, while attracting new investments and ultimately helping to create more regional job opportunities.”

Since January 2020, the County has also worked with area partners to advance a critical runway expansion approval and funding process. Phase one of this two-phase runway project, the widening of the runway from 100 ft. to 150 ft.​, proceeded in fall 2020 and consisted of installation of new infrastructure to support the lighting system and drainage requirements. Phase two will include the installation of a new high-intensity LED system, which will start in spring 2021.

Phase two also includes a proposal to lengthen the runway from 6,001 ft. to 7,000 ft. The County continues to work through the approval process for the runway expansion.

The initial upgrades, which provide significant safety enhancements particularly in adverse weather, is estimated to cost $6.1 million, with the County’s overall investment estimated at $3.5 million. This initiative has also received a significant grant of $1.5 million through the Provincial SWODF (Southwestern Ontario Development Fund) and $345,000 from the City of Barrie. The runway lengthening will require additional funds and when approved and completed, the extended runway will enable the LSRA to welcome larger aircrafts and is a necessary step in helping the airport to become a premier regional commercial airport that grows both the local and regional economy, encourages investment, creates new opportunities for​ local businesses and improves the quality of life for residents across the region.

Since the beginning of 2020, significant infrastructure and operational investments and enhancements have been made, including:

  • Purchase of a Type I/IV de-icing truck for approximately $130,000, which allows the LSRA to safely support winter operations, including ability to “deice” and provide “anti-icing” measures to an aircraft as large as a 737
  • Complete modernization of the airport’s Automatic Weather Observation System, providing airport users with vital, real-time weather observations. The project was completed for $167,101.20, bringing the project in at $28,000 below budget
  • Installation of close circuit security camera in the main terminal and outside to enhance airport safety
  • Enhancements to the terminal area, including the addition of Da Vinci’s Gate by Cravings dining area, which currently offers take-out services to the community and airport users

“We have a bright future at the airport and in addition to supporting regional economic growth, the LSRA is planning to expand both international and domestic passenger flights post-COVID,” said County Councillor and LSRA Board Chair Richard Norcross.