Chemical deicing puts a chill in airport operators.

Author:Ross, Ian

A new federal safety regulation calling for ice-free runways will add to the operating costs of Northern Ontario airport operators.

Sault Ste. Marie Airport Development Corp. president-CEO Terry Bos said airport managers are bracing for a slew of new safety-related requirements coming down from Ottawa.

The most onerous is the Global Reporting Format (GRF), which will represent a major change in the way airports address runway surface conditions.

The new reporting format means airports will have use more chemical treatments--such as potassium acetate--to eliminate ice on runways.

Bos said some Northern airports such as Sudbury, North Bay and Thunder Bay already use the chemical.

The Sault applies sand and sweeps during the winter, which, he said, has been very effective. The government's rationale for introducing GRF is that it follows a new harmonized standard under the International Civil Aviation Organization.

The new methodology goes into effect during the winter of 2020-2021, giving the Sault airport management one more winter to prepare.

The Sault airport doesn't rely on any municipal funding. Any added costs would come out of an increase to user fees charged to airline tickets, and landing and terminal fees charged to the airlines.

"We don't have a large operating budget to increase, so for us to switch from sand to potassium acetate is going to be very costly," said Bos.

He estimates one application of potassium acetate could cost $4,000 for its 6,000-foot main runway, and considerably more if the airport has to open its 6,000-foot crosswind runway.

When new safety regulations come down from Transport Canada, Bos said it's always difficult to recover the extra costs to implement them since federal funding has been stagnant.

When Ottawa divested itself of most of Canada's airports in the 1990s in favour of private authorities, the Airports Capital Assistance Program (ACAP) was put in place as a funding vehicle for airports handling under 525,000 passengers annually. It was to be funded by the ground rent charged to larger airports, like Toronto Pearson, and deposited back into the ACAP program. Ground rents are increasing every year but the ACAP funding available for some 200 eligible airports across Canada has remained at $38.5 million since 2000.

"Thirty-eight million doesn't go very far. That's probably enough to do two runways throughout the country in one year," said Bos. Ottawa has been scooping much of the revenue from ground...

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