Red Deer Airport has been around for eighty years, yet it still has tremendous potential for growth. The ANJ team recently travelled to Springbrook, near the city of Red Deer, about halfway between Edmonton and Calgary in Alberta, to find out more about this airport.
The Red Deer Airport story began in the mid-1930s, when Canada’s Department of Transport began constructing dozens of airfields across the country. By 1939, the airfield was operational in a limited capacity. Then, in September that year, the Second World War began. Most of the world found itself thoroughly unprepared for large scale warfare. Britain realized that, although it had the industrial capacity to increase combat aircraft production, it would struggle to produce enough aircrews to operate these aircraft.
About four months after war had been declared, a conference was held in Ottawa, where the challenge was addressed. An agreement was reached in which 50 000 pilots, observers, navigators, bombardiers, radio operators and aerial gunners would be trained in Canada, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and later South Africa. The plan was referred to as the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP), the Empire Air Training Scheme (EATS), or simply 'The Plan'.
In support of this training initiative, the airfield at Red Deer was developed for military flight training. By 1941, No. 36 Service Flying Training School (SFTS) had been established at the airfield. Equipped with Airspeed Oxfords, the school provided advanced flight and navigation training. The school operated until 1944, when the need for additional aircrews became less urgent. By then, almost 1,300 pilots had been trained at No.36 SFTS.
As a matter of interest, most of the BCATP aircrews were trained in Canada, which was ideally situated to provide training to Commonwealth aircrews, given its distance from European and Pacific threats, its capacity to build training aircraft and access to fuel. No less than 104 000 Canadians were employed to train aircrews in all of Canada's provinces, excepts Newfoundland and Labrador, which did not form part of the country at the time. The programme included 107 schools, and 184 ancillary units, as well as almost 11 000 aircraft. By 1945, when the war had come to an end, about 132 000 pilots and other aircrew members had been trained in Canada.
Over the next few years, the airfield at Red Deer was used to store surplus Avro Lancaster bombers. The airfield was licenced for civilian operations in 1950. Meanwhile, as the Cold War heated up, Canada offered to train North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries’ aircrews. The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) almost immediately began preparing the airfield, which had been designated RCAF Station Penhold, for flight training operations. North American Harvard training aircraft became a common sight at Penhold, which was later renamed ‘Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Penhold. In 1965, airfield operations were taken over by the city of Red Deer, which changed its name to ‘Red Deer Industrial Airport’.
Several civilian aviation companies moved to Red Deer, encouraging airport expansion. Later, in 1980, the main runway was extended to 5,528 ft. Then, in 1999, ownership of the airport was transferred from the Province of Alberta to the Red Deer Regional Airport Authority, with the City of Red Deer and Red Deer County as stakeholders. In 2011, the name of the airport was changed simply to ‘Red Deer Airport’.
(For further information on the history of the airport, please visit www.penholdbase.ca)
The way forward
Today, Red Deer Airport is home to nineteen companies, offering a variety of specialist and general services, ranging from aircraft maintenance and aerial wildfire suppression, to charter flights and pilot training.
About 250 people work at the airport, which generates a considerable economic impact in its area. Last year, Red Deer Airport was the fourth busiest airport in Alberta. In terms of aircraft movements, by November this year, the record for all previous years had been broken (about 70 000).
Red Deer Airport CEO Graham Ingham started out as an electronics technician with the Royal Canadian Air Force during the 1980s. By the time he left the military, he had earned a commercial pilot’s licence. Later, he flew a Citation 500 for investment bankers, before moving on to other companies, where he flew turboprop aircraft and regional airliners. He then flew Airbus A320s and A330s for Skyservice Airlines for more than a decade. Ingham then worked for another airline as director of flight operations, before altering his career path somewhat, to serve as director of product management and sales support in a different company. Then, two years ago, Ingham became CEO of Red Deer Airport, a position which could benefit from his years of experience in the industry.
Driving around the airport with Graham Ingham and Director of Aircraft Operations Derwin Hein, it became quite obvious that the airport has a considerable amount of land available for future development, which would attract more tenants, and in turn provide additional jobs to the region.
Red Deer Airport has never reached its full potential, but it seems that will soon change. “We honestly think that the opportunity with the ultra low-cost carriers is the future of the airport, in addition to the great businesses that we have here,” Ingham said. “We are excited about the future and confident that we are going to be able to transform this airport into something pretty exciting within the next couple of years.”
Earlier this year, the airport hosted a tremendously successful ‘Show ‘n’ Shine’ which served as a fundraiser for the Red Deer Food Bank. According to Director of Marketing and Communications Nicole Holinaty, who began working at the airport about a year and a half ago, the team had low expectations. “We thought, if 200 people showed up and we raised $1,000, that would be a great day.” Instead, several thousand enthusiasts attended the event. “Every food truck on site was sold out, donations exceeded $4,000 and thousands of pounds of food in a matter of four hours, so we have to do it again!” said Holinaty. “It definitely defied all expectations,” Ingham added. “We’re really hoping to double it next year.”
For further information, please visit www.flyreddeer.com