The first flight in a scheduled passenger service by FlyGTA from Toronto Island to the Wiarton-Keppel International Airport arrives on Friday, May 24, 2019 in Georgian Bluffs, Ont. as Inter Township Fire Department members spray water to welcome the plane. Rob Gowan/The Owen Sound Sun Times/Postmedia Network

Rob Gowan / Rob Gowan/Sun Times

Passenger flight service to the Wiarton-Keppel International Airport is now a reality.

The first flight for the service connecting the airport with the Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport on Toronto Island landed in the Township of Georgian Bluffs just outside of Wiarton on Friday afternoon.

A crowd of about 100 people applauded as the plane touched down. As it made its way to the waiting crowd at the edge of the apron outside the Eileen Vollick terminal, it taxied through an archway of water set off by members of the Inter Township Fire Department.

The flight marks the beginning of a daily return flight service by FlyGTA Airlines that will run from Toronto to Wiarton between Friday and Monday up until at least Oct. 28 under an agreement between the airport’s owners, Georgian Bluffs, and the airline.

Georgian Bluffs Mayor Dwight Burley said after the plane landed that he was very excited to see the service beginning and he is confident that it will work.

“It is a long time coming and it just looked as great as can be,” Burley said. “It is just amazing for the whole region to be able to fly from Wiarton to Toronto.”

The conditions were near perfect as the crowd waited for the plane to arrive after the approximately 35-minute flight from the airport near downtown Toronto. The sun was shining and there was a very light wind blowing as it touched down on the runway.

Burley said the new service will allow people to start their journey in Wiarton and end up just about anywhere they want to, with the ability to easily access transit and connecting flights once they arrive in the city. Car rental and limousine services are looking after getting passengers from Wiarton to their destinations locally, if they require it.

“Our slogan on this airport used to be, ‘the runway to the world’ and now we have got that in place,” said Burley. “We look at it as the ticket to the world.”

Burley said they see the service as serving people for a variety of different reasons, from business trips, to tourists coming to enjoy what Grey-Bruce has to offer, to locals heading to Toronto for the weekend.

“We are finding now that people are coming in and booking a whole flight all at once,” said Burley. “They are going down to the city for a party or a wedding for instance.”

A one-way flight costs $175, including taxes and fees, takes about 35 minutes and passengers are only required to check in about 15 minutes in advance.

Chris Nowrouzi, CEO of FlyGTA, said they have had several bookings for the flights so far with demand a lot stronger on the Wiarton side than the Toronto side, but they are working on getting the word out.

“For us it is the start of everything, it is an inception of this type of service into the Bruce Peninsula region and we are looking to take that internationally and advertising Canada as a whole and once they come here we show everyone what the gems are,” said Nowrouzi. “We like to take it broad and we are aiming for the long run and not necessarily immediately what impact we see.”

Nowrouzi said he sees the route to Wiarton as a good fit for their airline.

“Our most popular routes right now are Niagara and Muskoka which I find are really tourism sectors and in Muskoka also second homeowners,” said Nowrouzi. “I think we will see the exact same thing here in Wiarton and the Bruce Peninsula.”

Nowrouzi said they will re-evaluate in September after consulting with passengers and officials about what they are looking for in the service.

“We will make the decision then as to whether we continue for the winter, but it is our intention to, we are ready to,” he said.

The planes being used for the flights are a Piper Panther twin-engine plane with seating available for up to eight passengers. On Saturday, there were seven of the eight seats booked for the flight to Toronto.

Two of those seats were being filled by Joan and Steve Irvine of Big Bay who were heading to Toronto to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary, visit family and check out the Doors Open Toronto event which runs this weekend. They will return to Wiarton on a flight on Sunday.

Joan Irvine said she also has a long history with airplanes and the airport. She took flying lessons at the airport when she was 16 and her father had a plane there.

“It is a great idea to help out the local economy and make things more convenient in the region,” said Steve Irvine. “It has got great potential.”

The scheduled flight service was sought out after Georgian Bluffs commissioned an air service survey in 2018 that showed the majority of respondents would be extremely or very likely to use the airport for a scheduled flight service.

The municipality has been looking for ways to grow and develop the airport since it took over sole ownership of it in 2015 after buying South Bruce Peninsula’s 50 per cent stake for $600,000.

The municipality purchased and renovated the old terminal building for a restaurant, while an aircraft maintenance and mechanical service business also set up shop last fall.

Georgian Bluffs has been working with area partners to promote the airport from a tourism and economic development standpoint and is working with a consulting firm to attract more business.

Burley said now that they have a scheduled passenger flight service, they can apply for 50 per cent funding for infrastructure work at the airport, while after three years they can apply for 100 per cent funding.

“That in itself gives the airport a chance to expand larger if we wish,” said Burley. “It gives us the opportunity to redo our runway, our lights, our apron, everything, at 100 per cent funding.”


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