Villeneuve Airport expected to soar


Economic spinoffs will be felt in St. Albert

Villeneuve Airport may house over 400 airplanes one day, says a local business owner who is building hangar space at the airport.

Eldon Gjesdal, of Edmonton-based Energy Efficient Homes, recently expanded his operation from constructing homes to building hangars at Villeneuve Airport. He expects aviation and business activity at the airport to grow exponentially.

“I believe over the next two or three years (the airport) will grow from the current 100 airplane average to 200 to 300,” he says.

“There is enough land out there, so the next 20-year plan there could be as many as 400 airplanes out there.”

That growth will bring in pilots who want safe and convenient storage space for their airplanes, Gjesdal says.

To that end, he is building an insulated steel hangar that goes by the name of Rotating Aircraft Storage, an Alberta-designed and manufactured storage system for smaller single and twin-engine planes.

The storage’s design revolves around an engine-run, rotating centre platform that parks up to five airplanes in a circle.

Pilots enter the hangar, turn the platform until their airplane is facing the door and exit the building without moving other airplanes out of the way.

Gjesdal says the rotation system uses two-thirds less space than other airplane storages, and eliminates “hangar rash” where airplanes bump against each other while being moved inside the hangar.

“Usually if you have four other airplanes you have to have individual doors for each one,” he says.

“The neat thing about this is that you have one door that handles all five airplanes so that is where the cost savings are.”

In the future, Gjesdal plans to build a second and third hangar for the storage system. Thanks to its expected growth, Villeneuve will be the ideal place to pilot the project, he says.

In December 2012, Finance Minister Doug Horner confirmed that the province had picked Villeneuve Airport to replace Edmonton’s City Centre Airport as the alternate medevac landing site. City Centre is primarily used for medevac, corporate and charter flights.

The airport is expected to close next year, forcing businesses and users there to relocate. Some of these people are now moving to Villeneuve, Myron Keehn, vice-president of commercial development for Edmonton Airports, said in a May interview with the Gazette.

Villeneuve Airport is now home to about 16 businesses, covering activities such as aircraft flight training, maintenance and aviation operations. The airport’s website says it provides 90 direct jobs and generates about $31 million in economic activity a year, as well as $1.3 million in taxes.

Airport authorities are now expanding one of the airport’s two runways from 3,500 to 5,000 feet. Construction on the runway is expected to finish in November.

The airport is also receiving a category 1 instrument landing system to allow planes to land in reduced visibility and bad weather conditions. Costs for the upgrades are expected to run $5 to $6 million.

Improvements to the airport infrastructure, such as the creation of a stormwater management system and sanitary services will begin in 2016. Construction of another 100-plus business lots is expected to finish between 2015 and 2020.

Taking these changes into consideration, Villeneuve Airport may look like Springbank airport one day, says Perry McPherson, another business owner at the airport.

Springbank airport, located 10 kilometres outside of Calgary, occupies approximately 1040 acres of land and was constructed to solve growing congestion problems at the Calgary International Airport.

It is home to several businesses, including a restaurant and bed and breakfast, flight schools, and parts and services operations.

McPherson, a St. Albert-based pilot and owner of Power Toys Investment Inc., said it is not uncommon for bigger cities to have a reliever airport.

“You have to look at the models in other municipalities, in other communities, whether it’s Edmonton or Calgary or Vancouver, Toronto, Denver – they all tend to have one big airport that handles … all the commuter-style jets,” he says.

“And then they have a reliever airport that looks after a lot of the other stuff.”

McPherson owned a hangar for turbo propeller and jet engines at Villeneuve Airport for almost 10 years and is now adding another 12,000 square feet of hangar space to accommodate at least six more planes.

He said the airport’s location and cost effectiveness speak in favour of moving businesses out there. With City Centre Airport slated to shut down sooner rather than later, he agrees with Gjesdal that airplanes located there will also need a new home.

“Really what it comes down to, some people for logistical reasons the international airport doesn’t work so well for them,” he says.

“So if we can provide the service here where they are happy and comfortable and it’s more cost effective to come here, that is what we are looking to do.”

Rob Eykelbeysh, president of the Villeneuve Airport Owners and Operators Association, said the airport’s growth will not only increase the number of businesses at the airport but also of those in the area.

Eykelbeysh, who is also joint-chair of the Villeneuve Airport Regional Task Force, said there are plans for the construction of an industrial park near the airport that could house up to 100 general and aviation-related businesses one day.

These businesses could be anything from auto and aircraft upholstery shops, to car rental offices and trucking companies that move equipment from the airport to nearby communities.

“There will be a need for hot shot or courier services from the airport to say Acheson or into St. Albert,” he said.

“Companies that have to move something in a hurry if a company, such as ABC Company in St. Albert, has a part go down.”

In return, he said these businesses create new jobs and residents for surrounding communities, and keep more people in the area who are now moving and working out of Edmonton.

He cautioned that the business park is still in its early planning stages with construction depending on the implementation of services, such as water lines. These need to come out of a co-operation between surrounding communities and associations, he said.

Villeneuve Airport may also become an important destination for corporate businesses one day.

Eykelbeysh said the airport had inquires from big corporations such as Syncrude and Shell in the past but could not accommodate their charter flights. Thanks to its upgrades, these aircrafts will now be able to land at Villeneuve Airport.

“Especially with the corporate guys it is all about time and they don’t want to be slowed down going through the international airport,” he said.

“If they can jump on a charter that goes up to Fort McMurray and they go to (Villeneuve) airport, get out of their car, jump into the charter and away they go that is a big time saver.”

Aside from larger corporate flights, he agreed that the airport will easily accommodate 400 planes in the future, especially if airplanes and flight schools relocate from City Centre Airport.

Bob Smits, manager and chief flight instructor at the Villeneuve-based Namao Flying Club, says it’s too early to see what impact growth at the airport will have on his existing business.

Thanks to its potential for growth he deems it likely that more training schools located at the City Centre Airport will now move to Villeneuve.

“When you weigh the options of where they can go this is certainly a viable option for some of the flight training going on out here,” he said.

“I think competition is good for the industry. It stimulates a higher level of service and tends to bring more traffic out to a particular area.”

Gjesdal said Villeneuve Airport was originally designed as the primary flight training facility in the Edmonton region.

He hopes development at the airport will not only promote business growth and encourage pilots to move to Villeneuve but also bring back a general interest in aviation.

One day, he says he’d like to cook some hamburgers and get pilots and families from the region together to look at the planes.

“Villeneuve will have the best of everything and that’s what we really have to promote,” he says.

Editor’s note: Due to a typo, the original version of this story stated that corporate charter flights would “not” be able to land at the airport. The sentence has been corrected to state that these aircraft will “now” be able to land at Villeneuve Airport. The Gazette apologizes for the error.


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