The rapid growth in passenger traffic at the Fredericton International Airport (“FIA”) has been one the major success stories in our community over the past decade. Since the financial crisis in 2009, passenger numbers have been on the rise ­ 264,000 in 2009 to 350,000 in 2015. This trend has continued in 2016, with first quarter traffic up 22% over the same period last year. There are plenty of statistics that illustrate the province’s dire economic situation, but the airport’s growth is a harbinger of opportunity. To fully realize this potential, the FIA must have the infrastructure to accommodate its own growth or we risk losing this momentum.

Local airports facilitate economic growth in a number of ways for a region focused on the global economy. New Brunswick is already the most export­dependent province in the country and our next major wave of exports will likely be services. Success in sectors such as biosciences, information and communications technology, engineering and many others means that the Fredericton Region is creating a hub of expertise that we can bring to the world. Municipal and provincial economic development partners are developing plans and programs to help spur even more exporting activities through such initiatives as Ignite Fredericton’s pending Export Accelerator that the Chamber is collaborating on. Easy air access is central to continuing to develop this area of growth.

The FIA is also an economic driver in its own right ­ a 2011 independent study found that the FIA supported 586 jobs while projecting passenger traffic to reach 500,000 by 2030, which would support 1012 jobs and provide $41.5 million to provincial GDP. Urban Planner Richard Florida has found that every 10% increase in passengers generates a 1% increase in regional employment.

Fredericton’s airport was designed to accommodate 200,000 passengers annually and in 2015 it was 75% over capacity at 350,000. New Brunswick has sent out plenty of signals that we are ‘closed for business’ ­ we don’t need another one to be the first thing that potential investors, skilled employees, tourists and the like are greeted with upon their arrival to our capital city. This is becoming particularly acute as the Fredericton Region grows its tourism and convention business. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce has decided to host its annual conference in Fredericton in 2017, bringing in hundreds of business leaders and chamber executives from across the country. A new downtown hotel will further expand our capacity for hosting larger conferences.

In fact, as the “Fredericton International Airport,” it may be misnamed as in reality it services western and northwestern New Brunswick. It is a critical piece of infrastructure for business and personal uses. WestJet saw the potential and made Fredericton the destination for its first expansion of its Encore service to Eastern Canada, joining Air Canada as primary tenants. Air Transat and Sunwing have returned to provide direct flights to tropical destinations.

15 years ago the chamber of commerce coordinated the area’s “travel bank,” which in essence was a pot of money that companies and individuals contributed as an advance promise to purchase flights from a new carrier (which turned out to be Delta Airlines). The project was ultimately unsustainable and when the travel bank was exhausted, Delta left town. Today the airport is busy and getting busier due to organic demand.

Through sound management of the past 15 years, the Fredericton International Airport Authority is prepared ­ today ­ to put $10 million into its shovel­ready project (one of the few in the region), having already paid for the necessary studies, plans and specs. It is indeed a rare tri­level funding proposal that the proponent is prepared to make the ⅓ locally­required investment ­ this usually falls to municipal governments. The Province appears ready to move forward with the projects and federal officials are supportive. So what’s the holdup?

The FIA is part of Canada’s National Airport System (“NAS”) ­ airports run mainly through independent boards of directors, but that sit on Crown land. While self­sufficient as a whole, the smallest of these airports can operate self­funded, but for large capital investments, they require government investment. The good news is that there is a federal fund set­up specifically for assisting small airports with capital projects ­ the Airport Capital Assistance Program. The bad news is that NAS Airports are specifically excluded from this project.

With support from Fredericton’s municipal government, Deputy Premier Horsman and groups like the chamber of commerce, local MPs Matt DeCourcey and TJ Harvey (and Keith Ashfield before them) have been working diligently with their federal colleagues to find a solution to this issue, but they need our help. The community must make our voices heard. Send emails and make phone calls ­ not just to Messrs DeCourcey and Harvey, but also to Transportation Minister Marc Garneau and Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi and Regional Minister Dominic Leblanc. Let them know an expanded airport in Fredericton is needed and we expect them to find a way around the policy hurdles, the red tape and the politics.

Our airport terminal must be built.

Krista Ross is CEO of the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce. With more than 950 members, the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce is one of Atlantic Canada’s largest chambers of commerce. A dynamic business organization, the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce is actively engaged in policy development that affects the competitiveness of our members and of the Canadian business environment.