Reversing a decision they came to last October, Beiseker Village council has decided not to sell the municipality’s local airport after all – at least not for the next five years.
In the fall of 2021, the Village of Beiseker announced that due to the high costs associated with maintaining the local airport and staff’s lack of expertise in operating it, the Village would be listing the property for sale, with a proposed price tag of $1.3 million.
“The concept is, the airport should be properly maintained by someone with a vested interest in it – by professionals who know how to run an airport, rather than people who are not experienced in that, who are the staff of the Village office,” said Beiseker CAO Heather Leslie in a previous interview.
But with the item back on the agenda at recent Beiseker council meetings, that decision has been reversed. During a two-hour special meeting to discuss the issue on Jan. 20, council ultimately approved a motion to postpone the sale of the airport for at least five years.
The meeting include a presentation and ensuing question-and-answer period led by Travis Burrows, the president of the Beiseker Airport Society – a volunteer group that leases, maintains, and oversees many of the airport’s hangars.
Reached after the meeting, Burrows said he and the rest of the society are relieved the sale of the airport has been taken off the table.
“We were a little nervous because a sale of the airport to a private investor is just bad,” he said. “Essentially, one person would own it and they’d run it for their own business, their own gain. All the community aspects of it would [be gone]. It would run as a business and likely impact all those who use it.
“We just didn’t want it to get into the hands of someone who wasn’t going to do something constructive with it. We see the retention of ownership from the Village as a really good, positive decision.”
Born and raised in Beiseker, Burrows said the local airport is near and dear to him, as it is where he first learned to fly. Now a commercial pilot for WestJet, he said he knows first-hand the positive impact the Beiseker Airport can have on the village.
“As general aviation has slowly become more popular – and in Alberta especially, it’s become fairly active – we see the Beiseker Airport being able to contribute to that in a big way,” he said.
According to Beiseker Mayor Warren Wise, the decision not to sell the airport at this time stemmed mainly from grant funding that might be available to a municipality, but not other entities or individuals.
“[The airport society] said if we pushed the potential sale date five years, the eligibility of those grants might become more available,” Wise said. “That doesn’t mean to say that in five years, we’re going to put the airport up for sale. It just means that in the next five years, we won’t.”
The Beiseker Airport was established in 1984, according to the Village, and is located just east of Beiseker town limits. In the airport’s early years, a number of local municipalities owned and operated the amenity.
In 2010, the Alberta government turned ownership of the airport over to the Village of Beiseker, and provided approximately $1 million in funding to resurface the runway.
Currently Rocky View County provides the Village with the property taxes imposed on the land, but these funds do not cover the cost of running the airport, according to the Village, who added the revenue from the airport only supersedes expenses by about $7,000 a year.
“The issue we feel is a problem is that we’re a village of 800 people,” Wise said. “It’s not a big enough tax base or population to warrant trying to operate an airport. There are many other small airports around, but most of them are operated by Counties that have a much broader tax base and more interest in it.”
Warren added the Village of Beiseker has received proposals to purchase the airport in the past, with offers ranging anywhere from $300,000 to $700,000. He said how valuable the airport is, exactly, has been tricky to determine.
“We’ve had no one willing to give us an appraisal on it, because it’s such a unique [property],” he said. “We’ve approached a number of real estate people and so on, and we arbitrarily said if we could get $1.3 million, that would be great. We have no idea if someone would offer that amount, and now it’s of course a moot point for the next five years.”
One topic that came up at the Jan. 17 meeting was the state of the airport’s runway, which the Village of Beiseker previously announced will need some major investment in the future.
“That is going to come up at some point,” Wise said. “We’ve had claims there are 30 years left in the runway, while others have said there’s only five years left in the runway. We don’t know. As a Village, we’re not professionals in that regard.”
Burrows brushed off that concern, adding members of the airport society agree the runway has plenty of life left.
“As far as the maintenance of the airport goes, it will definitely need some work,” he said. “But now that we know the Village is committed to working with the society, we want to make the airport a really beautiful place where people can go to recreate, fly airplanes, and do all the fun things associated with aviation.
“It’s a good runway. It might need some work in 20 years, but what doesn’t?”