An Airport on Autopilot; A Veil of Secrecy has Shrouded this Canadian Airport

The City of Hamilton, Ontario, has poured millions of dollars into its airport over the past 10 years without once having looked at the financial health of the airport or the private operator that runs it. A Spectator investigation shows the...


The deal also says that TradePort can't be held accountable for projections that don't meet the mark because of "business trends generally in the airport and aviation industries."

Rather than trying to break the contract, the city is more likely to attempt to gain more control over how the airport is operated.

"My biggest concern would be that if we're at odds with the private operator 10 years into the lease, then what's in store for us over the next 30 years?" asked Collins.

What is TradePort International Corp.?

A company formed a decade ago when the Region of Hamilton-Wentworth asked for bids from private firms interested in operating the airport.

TradePort won the competition and on July 1, 1996, took over managing, financing and running the airport under a 40-year lease with the city.

Its three shareholders are -- in order of size of ownership -- YVR Airport Services of Vancouver, Westpark Developments Inc., owned by Hamilton businessman Tony Battaglia, and Labourers' International Union of North America, Local 837, headed by Joe Mancinelli.

Key dates

1940: Mount Hope airport is built as a wartime air force training station.

1963: Department of National Defence no longer needs the airport. Department of Transportation assumes ownership and operation.

1994: Transport Canada announces it will divest itself of local and regional airports.

The region issues a request for proposals from private firms to run the airport.

1996: TradePort, winner of the bid to take over the airport, assumes responsibility to manage, finance and operate it under a 40-year lease.

2003: The airport hits a peak of 1,041,000 passengers, but FedEx, a linchpin of the airport's cargo business, moves to Toronto.

2004: WestJet moves 60 per cent of its flights from Hamilton, plunging the annual passenger count to 614,000.

2004: CanJet arrives with daily flights to Ottawa and Montreal, adding Florida later in the year.

2005: Air Canada announces it will fly regional Jazz brand planes out of Hamilton to Ottawa and Montreal. CanJet removes flights from Hamilton citing too few passengers.

2005: Passenger totals drop to less than 500,000.

2006: TradePort's first revenue share to the city -- originally anticipated at $300,000 -- now estimated at $50,000 or less.

Cargo volumes:

1995 50,000 tonnes

2003 91,000 tonnes

Passengers:

Prior to 1996 13,000

2005 438,000

2007 670,000 (estimate)

Investment in airport:

Since 1996

TradePort $45 million

Tenants $62 million

Source: TradePort International Corp.

The principal players

Guy Paparella: As director of industrial parks and airport development, Paparella, who declined to have his photograph taken, has been officially responsible for overseeing the city's airport lease with TradePort for about a year. A former director of strategic initiatives, the longtime city employee also served as chief of staff to former mayor Bob Wade. Paparella is in the hot seat as city liaison with a group of councillors who are dissatisfied with Hamilton's relationship with TradePort.

Tony Battaglia: A founder of TradePort, Battaglia was the original face of TradePort and head of the airport company from the time the lease was awarded in 1996 until he moved to a position as chair of the board in January 2004. His Westpark Developments Inc. -- a shareholder in TradePort -- was part of a consortium that bought the bankrupt Royal Connaught Hotel last year. Battaglia is a part-owner of the Hamilton Bulldogs hockey team.

Joe Mancinelli: Originally chair of the TradePort board, Mancinelli reduced his role to a director of the company in January 2004. His Labourers' International Union of North America, Local 837 has made equity investments not just in TradePort but also a portfolio of 600 affordable housing units in Hamilton, two nursing homes, a chunk of downtown property holding the decaying Lister Block building and two successful banquet houses, including LIUNA Station.

Richard Koroscil: Now the president and CEO of TradePort, Koroscil joined as a vice-president to Battaglia in June 2003. He came from YVR Airport Services Ltd. of Vancouver, a member of the consortium that formed TradePort. He became president and CEO when Battaglia moved to chair of the board in 2004. Koroscil supervised more than a dozen airports for YVRAS, a private company that manages airports in Canada and internationally.

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