Airport ended 2021 on strong financials

By Merna Emara
Staff Writer
memara@fortfrances.com

Despite COVID-19, the Fort Frances airport had a strong financial year due to the fire season and all the extra aircraft movement.

Tom Batiuk, airport supervisor, said aircraft movement spiked the most during June and July when firefighters were deployed nationally and internationally to help extinguish fires.

The airport fuel sale report states that fuel sales in July 2021 were $86,299 – the highest month in the last nine years. In 2021, the airport sold 287,105 litres of fuel.

However, the number of flights was much lower, with Bearskin Airlines only administering 67 flights in 2021, as compared to 216 in 2020 and 724 in 2019.

“We do not service any remote first nations communities out of Fort Frances,” Batiuk said in an email to the Times. “All that traffic is based in Red Lake, Sioux Lookout, and Pickle Lake airports. We have in the past however opened to receiving displaced residents due to extreme weather events in the past based on need. That is difficult to predict, however.”

Batiuk added that the US itinerant air traffic to Fort Frances remains suspended with no customs services available locally.

“I have not been given a date for 2022 as to when customs service will resume or if it will resume,” Batiuk added. “My speculation is that it will not resume until the current COVID screening practices either relax or disappear. This affects roughly 300 aircraft movements from the USA on an annual basis and a significant amount of revenue to the airport.”

Airport statistics suggest that private and medevac landings were higher in 2021 than the two preceding years.

As for the 2022 fire season, Batiuk said, the airport and staff will be ready and waiting to see what occurs with moisture levels and needs in this region and as last year will adjust the business and facilities to accommodate any need in that area.