SASKATOON -- On Wednesday Western Economic Diversification Canada announced two Saskatchewan airports will each receive a slice of $4 million in funding for seven Prairie airports through its Regional Air Transportation Initiative (RATI).

The initiative was launched in March to enable regional air carriers and airports to remain operational and continue to contribute to growth while adapting to new post COVID-19 realities and requirements, a government news release said.

Prince Albert and La Ronge are the two airports in Saskatchewan that will receive up to $300,000 each for improvements.

LA RONGE UPGRADES

“The investment will not only help a critical asset in our region economy recover from COVID, it will help improve the competitiveness of our airport and speed up the recovery timelines. On behalf of council, we are very thankful for the investment,” La Ronge Mayor Colin Ratushinak said in the release.

Ratushinak says the funding will go towards three areas in the La Ronge airport. Getting high speed internet, adding lights to the deicing bay area and rehabilitating the apron to secure aircrafts for parking.

“Being in a remote location where we are situated, we’re at a place where we’re not at sort of viable communications you would typically see in the south,” Ratushinak told CTV News regarding the internet speed.

He says the airport had a maximum of 5 megabytes per second of speed and compares urban airports receiving a gigabyte of speed or faster.

Ratushinak emphasizes not having any lights in the deicing bay during the winter can be difficult as the sun doesn’t come up until 8 or 9 a.m.

He adds the airport is a “main hub” for flight planning as they have a 24/7 flight service station.  

PRINCE ALBERT IMPROVEMENTS

Prince Albert airport manager Corey Nygaard says the news of the funding was “pretty exciting” as it they weren’t expecting any money to come this year.

It will go towards painting the runway, a snowblower and an emergency generator for maintenance facilities.

Nygaard says regional airports are “vitally important” as people north of the province may only have the option to fly in order to travel to other parts of the province.

”We support the resource sector, the mining companies that have older employees, and it makes more logistical sense to wire your staff to these locations,” Nygaard told CTV News.

“Last but definitely not least the connectivity of emergency services medevac system, all the way up north, that they're funneling through Prince Albert hospital first.”

Nygaard says the Prince Albert airport was “luckier than most” and was only down 50 per cent capacity during the height of the pandemic while bigger airports were down by 90 per cent.

In order to receive the funding, Nygaard says the airport fills out a funding agreement and will purchase materials over the next two years. The airport submits the requests and the invoices come in later.

 Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Fort McMurray, High Level, and The Pas are the other airports in the prairies that will receive funding through RATI.