Niagara District Airport RFP - Frequently Asked Questions

Airplanes on tarmac at Niagara District Airport with NDA logo and words Request For Proposal https://procurementoffice.bonfirehub.ca/opportunities/40815

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Niagara District Airport Request for Proposal

BACKGROUNDER

The Niagara District Airport has been in operation since 1929, operated by the Niagara District Airport Commission since 1959. It sits on 362 acres of property, with the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake as the sole owner since September 13, 2006. The Niagara District Airport Commission operates the airport, as a Municipal Services Board, on behalf of the municipalities of St. Catharines, Niagara-on-the-Lake, and Niagara Falls.

The Airport currently supports a wide variety of aviation-related uses, including corporate and private charter traffic, supporting the thirteen million (13,000,000) visitors that Niagara attracts each year, with Niagara Falls as one of the top destinations in Canada. The airport is home to the oldest flight training school in Canada, supports the presence of both fixed-wing and helicopter traffic, and continues to be an integral aspect of the Niagara region’s transportation options for the movement of goods, services, and people. The facility is home to private business and supports emergency service providers, in addition to agricultural uses, tourism charters, business and general aviation.

The municipal partners are looking to identify any interested private sector groups or entities to operate the airport on a long-term lease, with the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake retaining land ownership.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Why are the municipalities looking for a private sector operator?
Will the Niagara District Airport Commission continue to exist?
Is the Airport going to close?
We have seen many articles and headlines that the Niagara Region was going to take over operations. Is that still true?
Who owns the land, and is it being sold?
Is it possible the land could be used for development instead of as an airport?
How much money do you hope/expect to gain from a third-party operator?
Do you expect there to be a significant amount of interest?
What happens if you don't get any bidders?
Wasn't this process just done in 2017? What kind of interest was there then? Would you expect it to be different now?
What happens to existing businesses on-site, and people who keep their aircraft at Niagara District Airport?
Does this mean you are looking to expand the Airport?
Does this mean you want to extend the length of the runway to accommodate bigger planes?
Is the Airport still working on a Master Plan?
Who would manage any private company that comes forward?
What are some of the key dates surrounding the RFP?

 

Why are the municipalities looking for a private sector operator?

Operating an airport is a fiscally sensitive business. It takes several partners willing to support the capital investments necessary to maintain, and more importantly grow, the asset to act as a business catalyst for the growth of the Niagara Region.

Finding the capital dollars to do so will certainly be challenging for any municipality at this time. Therefore, the municipal partners are looking to find a third-party, private sector entity that is willing to support those necessary investments and has a history in the operations of air facilities.

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Will the Niagara District Airport Commission continue to exist?

Management of any third party will be through the Niagara District Airport Commission, so it will continue to exist. In October 2022, existing commissioners' terms will expire, coinciding with the municipal election. The focus of the support may evolve and grow; however, it will continue to guide the facility's operations, whether as a Municipal Services Board or an oversight entity for a private-sector partner.

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Is the Airport going to close?

No. Quite the opposite. To allow it to grow and better support the economies throughout Niagara – not the least of which is the 13 million visitors travelling to our region annually – we need a singular focus, with the financial and operational know-how to do so.

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We have seen many articles and headlines that the Niagara Region was going to take over operations. Is that still true?

The Niagara Region is currently reviewing their potential support for the Niagara District Airport and the Niagara Central Dorothy Rungeling Airport in Welland. The outcome of that review will likely be determined in winter, 2021. Given the uncertainty surrounding that process, it's necessary to look at all options that constitute best practices, including an RFP that may uncover a group with the financial willingness and ability to support the growth of the Airport.

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Who owns the land, and is it being sold?

The land is solely owned by the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, who will maintain ownership. There is no scenario that involves the sale of the land.

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Is it possible the land could be used for development instead of as an airport?

No. The Town will continue to own the land, and the only intended use for the land is to support the continued operations of Niagara District Airport.

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How much money do you hope/expect to gain from a third-party operator?

We have no set expectations. There are many financial aspects to a potential operator, including their planned capital improvements and investments in the facility, the use of the assets at the Airport, their business plans for the Airport, their preferred length of lease, etc. Additionally, the municipalities benefit immediately from the removal of their financial support of the facility.

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Do you expect there to be a significant amount of interest?

Yes. It is anticipated that there will be significant interest. The Airport is situated in a wonderful location to support our tourism industry and continue growth for business in general. We have established the potential for a market given the scheduled service to Toronto. Aviation will look to be on the rebound in the months to come, and we have seen unprecedented growth in recent years – with 45,000 movements in 2019.

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What happens if you don't get any bidders?

If there are no bidders, the Commission, through the three municipal partners, will continue to operate the Airport as it currently does as a Municipal Services Board, with a discussion surrounding next steps upon the expiration of that agreement in 2026. This could involve the extension of the agreement, additional partners, or continuing with the status quo.

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Wasn't this process just done in 2017? What kind of interest was there then? Would you expect it to be different now?

An expression of interest was issued in 2017, that to some extent, is an extension of what is being done here. The work in 2017 demonstrated our interest in finding an innovative means of continuing to provide and grow the Airport in Niagara.

There was relatively conservative interest in 2017, with three interested parties submitting responses. As referenced, we think the industry has changed. Aviation has had a difficult 18 months and is looking to be on the rebound. Seizing the opportunity to find a partner to invest in the facility is a timely venture. We think that time is now.

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What happens to existing businesses on-site, and people who keep their aircraft at Niagara District Airport?

A third-party partner would be retaining and upholding the existing leasing arrangements with businesses and individuals on-site. That being said, the partner will likely look to focus aspects of the business in various means and would have the full support of the partners to grow the business of the Airport in a way that respects the existing legal arrangements and identifies new opportunities.

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Does this mean you are looking to expand the Airport?

To better support business and industry in Niagara, the Airport needs to grow its suite of offerings. This would mean targeted opportunities to support our tourism partners, mutually beneficial partnerships with other businesses that rely on the Airport to support their business and using the Airport as a catalyst to attract future businesses.

The facility is ideally situated close to transportation hubs, highway access, and as part of several recent planning engagements with the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake and the Niagara Region. Timely, incremental, supportive growth is the plan.

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Does this mean you want to extend the length of the runway to accommodate bigger planes?

No. The runway is currently at 5,000 feet and use has not been maximized at that length. Corporate jets and general aviation can be supported currently. Many capital investments would need to be made to accommodate changes to our traffic profile. We can bring in domestic aircraft from Canadian cities in the 75 – 100 passenger range with the current length.

The plan is to work with a knowledgeable and respected aviation partner to identify mutually agreeable areas of growth to support and grow the existing businesses and hopefully leverage the market of Niagara to do so.

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Is the Airport still working on a Master Plan?

Yes. In collaboration with the Niagara Region, the Niagara District Airport is completing our first Master Plan since 1992. The Master Plan will provide guidance to any third-party operator on the approach to development in the short and long term that will be seen as supportive by the municipal partners that guide the strategic operations of the Airport.

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Who would manage any private company that comes forward?

Any private sector, third-party operator would likely be managed by the Niagara District Airport Commission; however, the municipal partners are open to alternate options, reviewed on an ongoing basis by the three municipal partners.

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What are some of the key dates surrounding the RFP?

The date of issuance is September 1, 2021. The submission deadline is October 20, 2021.

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