13.7 C
Niagara Falls
Monday, April 15, 2024
After 95 years the Niagara District Airport still has room to grow, Pilon says
CEO of the Niagara District Airport Dan Pilon spent his Learn & Live session educating NOTLers on all the roles the airport plays in the community. JULIA SACCO

The Niagara District Airport is a well-known fixture in Niagara-on-the-Lake, but many NOTLers aren’t familiar with all of its functions.

When Dan Pilon, CEO of the airport, presented his Learn & Live segment “Our Niagara District Airport,” on Monday, many were surprised to find out that the airport has been in the community for nearly a century.

“The single most surprising fact for me was finding out that the airport is turning 95 this year,” organizer Terry MacTaggart said. 

Pilon said that when Niagara District Airport opened its doors in 1929, the hope was that it would expand and grow the community.

In his presentation, cited a headline from an article in a newspaper on Dec. 27, 1929, which said: “A city, to be progressive, needs an airport.”

And ours isn’t just any airport, as Pilon made clear throughout his session.

“There are only about 45 airports in Canada that have air traffic control towers,” he said.

Those control towers control the airspace and everything that moves on the ground at the airport.

The next step below that is the flight service station, which is also only featured at about 45 Canadian airports, said Pilon.

“There’s only 90 airports across Canada that have a NAV Canada tower at their facility, so the fact that we are one of the 90 that has a flight service station means we’re in pretty rare company,” he said. 

Niagara District is also a certified airport, meaning it has achieved a certain level of safety that many others strive for. 

“As an example, that’s the prime minister’s jet at our airport,” Pilon said, gesturing to a photo of Justin Trudeau’s jet landing in NOTL.

The prime minister isn’t the only high-profile guest who has made their way through Niagara District.

“Think of anyone who’s performing at the casino, anyone at the Meridian Centre,” Pilon said. 

The airport was assigned 44,000 movements a year in 2019, Pilon said, with 21,000 of those movements itinerants — starting somewhere else and landing in Niagara. 

The facility is used for much more than just general aviation and flight school, though that does make up a major part of its history.

In the future, Pilon is hopeful that through federal funding the airport will continue to expand to service the community accordingly.

“Niagara is the 13th-largest census metropolitan area in Canada,” he said. “We most assuredly are not the 13th-largest airport in this country.” 

With about 14 million tourists entering the region annually over the last 20 years, Pilon thinks more can be done.

“We have a 5,000-foot runway. A 5,000-foot runway is the exact length of the runway they have at Billy Bishop Airport,” he said.

With 362 acres of land and a “good chunk” available for development, the Niagara airport has potential. 

“There’s a lot of different ways to get from A to B,” Pilon said.

“For us it’s about ‘how do we finally change the conversation and the questions surrounding our facility.’ The opportunities are real but the solutions are not infinite,” he said.

The tourism sector needs to identify the perceived value of the airport, Pilon added, and demonstrate that to partners, ultimately evolving into a partnership with real dollars on both sides of the equation. 

juliasacco@niagaranow.com

Subscribe to our mailing list