MONCTON – It was a year of firsts in 2018 for the Greater Moncton Romeo Leblanc International Airport, which announced a $3.36 million surplus at its annual general meeting Friday.
First, passenger traffic at the airport reached more than 681,000, up from around 665,630 in 2017 and surpassing its previous record in 2014.
Second, the airport posted a record for the shipment of cargo abroad, with 16 flights carrying over 1,000 tonnes of live seafood to Asia and Europe. It was the first time the airport saw a steady flow of local products being exported to international markets on large, dedicated cargo flights.
It also received a level 2 airport carbon accreditation, meaning it has begun reducing its carbon footprint.
President and CEO Bernard LeBlanc says the airport is on its way to becoming a “cargo airport,” something its late president and CEO, Rob Robichaud, had envisioned.
“And it’s nice because some of the infrastructure isn’t ours. It’s the partners that we have. Seafood has a great facility next to the airport. Last year we were able to leverage that,” he said. “That’s something that’s continued int 2019 and that will keep on going.”
“We want to make sure we benchmark ourselves against other airports…With cargo, we charge them similar landing fees with what we would for passenger aircraft because it’s based on the type of aircraft. So if we want to make sure we can keep attracting them, we can’t just keep increasing our fees to pay the bills, right?” he added.
The surplus in 2018 came from a $438,000 increase in airport revenues, a $1.65-million increase in the Airport Improvement Fund due to a $5-dollar fee increase per passenger, and nearly $85,000 less in spending. At the same time, the airport spent around $1.1 million on energy and carbon reduction projects, as well as more than $700,000 to add 52 parking spots and automate the parking system.
LeBlanc said the expected cost savings from energy reduction and automated parking systems could be passed on to passengers.
“If we save $140,000 a year in our parking lot, that’s money we don’t have to charge our passengers. If we save $100,000 a year in energy costs, we don’t have to increase our fees. So that’s part of the competitive advantages using what we have, but also being proactive so that we can save money over the long term so we don’t have to increase our fees or charges,” he said.
He said the passenger traffic is especially notable mid-February to mid-May, when many people, including from neighbouring provinces, fly to warmer destinations through the Moncton airport, though summer months are the busiest. The Moncton airport has 11 direct flights a week to so-called “sun destinations” like Cuba, Mexico, Florida, Dominican Republic and Jamaica during that season.
With the recently added direct Air Canada Rouge flights to Toronto on larger aircraft, LeBlanc said it could give the Moncton airport a better case to reach other warm destinations.
But when it comes to direct flights to other U.S. destinations, LeBlanc said it’s unlikely to happen in the near future. The airport had been working with its counterparts in Saint John, as well as with the provincial government, approaching both Canadian and American airlines. But LeBlanc said it’s more likely that a direct flight to Newfoundland would happen before ones heading to the U.S.
“A lot of effort put into [U.S. direct flight talks], a lot of time, a lot of discussions, but in the end, financially it didn’t work,” he said. “What [airlines are] going to do is make decisions that maximize their returns and their investment. And our challenge is to convince them that they’ll get a bigger return in our markets.”
As the Moncton airport competes with the likes of the Halifax airport, LeBlanc said it’s challenging when the Nova Scotia government helps fund the Halifax airport’s expansion, recently making a more than $11-million investment, and Moncton doesn’t get the same financial benefit.
“At the end, I think we shouldn’t be afraid to ask our government to participate but at the same time, we understand there could be other priorities as well,” he said.
Moving ahead, the airport has capital investments to the tune of $13 million planned, including moving the bar in the waiting area to the airside, revamping three of its runways to comply with new safety regulations, and an expansion of the apron.
“[For international cargos], the runway length is what they need. The apron is good but it’s not good if we have to de-ice passenger aircraft at the same time as those large [cargo] aircraft. We don’t want to scare away cargo aircraft and we don’t want to penalize our regular passenger traffic. So we have to expand that pad to be able to accommodate both at the same time,” he said.
Related to this, the airport is working with TransAqua, Greater Moncton’s wastewater commission that’s required to comply with federal regulations to implement a secondary treatment of its wastewater by 2020. The airport’s de-icing fluid goes into the municipal water system, so it’s been working with the City of Dieppe and TransAqua to manage the impact of that. LeBlanc said he’s expecting an estimate of the cost next week.