GORDON/BARRIE ISLAND -- Big changes are in the works for the Gore Bay Manitoulin Airport.

The airport, which has remained largely unchanged since 1947, has been approved for a major redevelopment project worth more than $4.2 million.

It's all thanks to funding from the federal government that will cover a large chunk of the share municipalities would traditionally pay for large infrastructure projects.

The plans have already been drawn up. Airport manager Robert Colwell, who has been on the job for 24 years, said he's excited about the possibilities.

He's probably most excited for the new terminal.

"We have issues of accessibility and lots of times we have more people come in on an aircraft than we can safely manage or handle within the small building that we currently have with lineups for washrooms and that sort of thing," said Colwell.

Air traffic has doubled

The airport has nearly doubled in air traffic in the last few years alone. Planes as big as C-17s and Hercules Jets have landed on the airstrip. It's assisted in medical flights both off of and on the Island. It also is home to the Gore Bay Flying Club.

Major airlines have also used the airport as an alternate in recent years.

"Certainly, COVID has impacted us hugely," said Colwell. "A typical day like today, nice weather, good flying day at the peak of season, it wouldn't be uncommon to see maybe three jets parked on the apron, a couple turbo props and maybe some smaller general aviation aircrafts."

Three municipalities help run the facility for the west end of the Island. Lee Hayden is the reeve of Gordon/Barrie Island, where the airport is situated, and he's also the president of the airport commission.

Wise investment

"The funding announcement came forward and accelerated it and we were able to move forward without any private monies coming in," said Hayden. "It's strictly the municipalities and it's a wise, wise investment."

Colwell, who has been working on the redevelopment for years, said this is the start of a new chapter for the facility.

Manitoulin Transport already uses it as its hub for its corporate travel.

"We need to keep moving forward, you know, running an airport is a lot like playing a game of chess," said Colwell. "It's all about the right moves at the right time, that's how you win the game and we're not in this game to lose."

No date has been set for when they'll break ground on the new terminal. It'll be built behind where the current building sits now. They still have to put out an RFP and can now turn to the next phase of the project.

Colwell says they're turning Gore Bay Manitoulin into a regional hub and he's excited about what this will mean for the local economy.