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Mystery man, mystery plan: Questions abound on Stephenville airport acquisition

The dozens of people assembled inside the small airport terminal in Stephenville, N.L., rose to mark the good news. Applause echoed off unused airline customer-service counters and unstaffed rental car kiosks.

They had just heard Carl Dymond announce ambitious plans he called a “game changer, in every way shape and form” for the western Newfoundland town that has had its economic struggles over the years.

A $200-million investment into airport infrastructure and the community. A plan to manufacture cargo drones, “some of the biggest in the world.” The return of major airlines, and scheduled passenger service. The creation of thousands of jobs.

All this, using the Dymond Group of Companies’ own cash. 

“We’re also not asking for any financial resources at all from the town of Stephenville, from the area, from the province,” Carl Dymond said at that media event on Sept. 9.

“We want to be able to do this with our money. I think putting our money into it is showing that we’re serious about what we’re looking to do.” 

Local politicians and business leaders have lauded Dymond’s plan for how it would rev up the region’s economy.

And the announcement provided hope for local residents who have too often relied on out-of-province rotational work — hope there may soon be jobs closer to home. The mayor says it has spurred other investment in the region.

But a CBC News investigation has found inconsistencies between Dymond’s public comments, and what those on the other side of some of his business plans are saying.

Also, timelines for signs of progress at the airport have become more elastic, moving further into the future.

And the corporate history of the Dymond Group remains murky.

“I know we’re very secretive in how we do work, but we’re the kind of company that we’d rather show people what we did than to tell people along the way what we’re doing,” Dymond said at the announcement in Stephenville in September.

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The empty interior of the Stephenville airport terminal is pictured in November. Local officials hope for a renaissance here soon. (Rob Antle/CBC)

CBC News provided detailed information to Dymond about the findings outlined in this story.  

He declined interview requests, indicating he would answer questions after the deal closes for his acquisition of the Stephenville airport.

The airport authority stressed last month that it had yet to receive any formal offer for that to happen. Officials there are also not doing interviews.

The initial deadline was the end of December.

Now, nearly two months later, the people of Stephenville — and other western Newfoundland communities — are waiting to see what comes next.

Questions about drone details

A key component of the Dymond Group’s pitch for Stephenville is the creation of a drone manufacturing facility.

“Our drones are some of the biggest in the world,” Carl Dymond said at September’s announcement — about 117 feet wide, 80 feet long, carrying 52,000 pounds of cargo.

At this point, those drones don’t actually exist. But in an interview with CBC News last month, Dymond said he “will be flying these in 2025.”

He indicated at the time the company is working to get the airframe certified through Transport Canada.

“We’re helping Transport Canada and they’re helping us,” Dymond said Jan. 11.

“It’s certainly a symbiotic relationship in how we work together to get this airborne.”

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There are currently no scheduled commercial passenger flights operating out of the Stephenville airport. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

At the time, CBC News asked Dymond what branch of Transport Canada could be contacted to learn more.

Dymond said he didn’t have that answer off-hand, but could talk to his team about it.

He has yet to provide that information.

The division of Transport Canada responsible for all drones in the country says it is not aware of any specific interactions or applications received from the company.

Northern exposure

Dymond said in September the company designed its aircraft first and foremost to deliver food and supplies to Canada’s North, where he described food insecurity as “ridiculous, to say the least.”

In an interview with CBC News in January, Dymond said he would like to reduce the cost of living in the North by supplying bulk groceries.

But it’s not just cargo deliveries Dymond said his company is eyeing in the region.

“For us now, running airports is probably where we’re going to concentrate a lot of our business on now, as we find different markets for where our aircraft are going into,” he told CBC in January.

“So we’re working with governments up north now, to look at the airports in Cambridge Bay, Resolute Bay, Arctic Bay.”

Dymond said at the time that he has had “quite a bit” of contact with those airports.

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The Cambridge Bay airport is pictured in a 2013 file image. (Evan Mitsui/CBC) (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

CBC News contacted the airports, and was referred to the territory of Nunavut, which oversees their operation. 

In an emailed statement, the government said there have been no discussions or plans made between Nunavut Airports and the Dymond Group.

When told about those comments earlier this month, Dymond provided the name of a specific official in the hamlet of Cambridge Bay for CBC News to contact. 

That person did not reply to messages, and Dymond later indicated he is under a non-disclosure agreement.

He added it’s necessary to formulate a plan first with the municipalities or hamlets about potential benefits, and he wouldn’t approach another level of government unless all of those ducks were in a row.

Passenger service vital to deal 

One vital aspect of any agreement in Newfoundland would be the reinstatement of commercial passenger service for Stephenville, which is just 130 kilometres southwest of a much busier airport in Deer Lake. That airport is used by residents of Corner Brook and neighbouring communities, and tourists heading to Gros Morne National Park. 

At this point, the Stephenville airport remains empty, except for a restaurant that the public can still access.

Anchor tenant PAL Airlines ended its year-round service in January 2020. In May of that year, as the COVID-19 pandemic swept the globe, Porter Airlines and Sunwing also departed.

Dymond has offered repeated assurances that commercial flights will return this spring.

CBC News surveyed a number of airlines about their interest in Stephenville’s airport.

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Sunwing is the only airline to date to publicly announce plans to return to the Stephenville airport. It will run a weekly service to Toronto this summer. (Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press)

Air Canada said in an email that “Stephenville is not part of our plans.”

WestJet has never operated flights to the Stephenville airport and indicated it has no plans to do so in the future.

PAL Airlines said it has no plans to resume services there either.

Porter Airlines representatives would only say they are in the process of finalizing a summer schedule and have been in contact with a number of airports, including Stephenville. But officials would not comment on whether there are talks with the Dymond Group. 

Sunwing has included Stephenville in its summer schedule with a weekly Wednesday flight to Toronto from June 22 to Sept. 7. The airline had announced a similar service in 2021, but the flights did not resume.  

Quebec-based Pascan Aviation did not reply to messages.

Who is Carl Dymond?

Six weeks after September’s announcement at the Stephenville airport, Carl Dymond appeared by video to speak with eager members of the Long Range Small Business Week Committee about his plans.

“My goal is to help the people of Stephenville. I know, a lot of people say, a big company, all they care about is profits. I’ve made my profits. Now I want to give back to the community,” Dymond — who is originally from Torbay, outside St. John’s — said in the Oct. 22 interview, posted on Facebook.

“I’ve made enough money to last me a lifetime. So now it’s, do I need to have $3 billion or $300 billion or $3 trillion? I don’t care. You know what I mean?”

Comments like those mark a stunning turnaround in fortunes for Dymond.

In that interview posted on Facebook, he outlined some of his story.

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Dymond announced big plans for the Stephenville Airport at the media event in September. (Troy Turner/CBC)

Dymond said he used his last $200 to incorporate his company the day before he retired from the military in August 2016, then ate Kraft Dinner for the next month.

Public records reveal more about Dymond’s leaner times, in the years prior.

In late 2011, the bank seized his new Chevrolet Silverado. He filed for creditor protection soon after, in May 2012, listing $80,000 in debts. Dymond emerged from insolvency three years later, after successfully completing a repayment plan.

According to his LinkedIn profile, Dymond worked as an intelligence analyst in the Canadian Forces. His time in the military included a 10-month deployment to Afghanistan, and a six-month stint as an Ottawa-based signals intelligence manager.

Dymond has publicly described himself as a “wounded veteran” and said he has had anxiety and mental health issues. He was a master corporal when he retired from the military less than six years ago and became an entrepreneur.

“I sucked it up, and I shook hands with the right people at the right events, put myself out there,” he said in an interview with the Long Range Small Business Week Committee.

Dymond said he lives in what some people call a modest house near Ottawa. He drives a 2019 Kia Sorento that public records show is financed through the bank.

He stressed that he measures success in having happy and healthy children. 

“For me, that’s success. It’s not making $2 billion a year.… Success is not based on how much money you have in the account. It’s how many people are following you, and how many people are inspired by you.”

‘Silent warrior in the background’

Dymond’s businesses have had a relatively thin online presence, with few media mentions prior to last fall. But in past interviews, he has said that is by design.

“For me, discretion — being that silent warrior in the background — has been key to what we’ve done over the years,” he told CBC News in September.

When recently asked by CBC News about some of the companies he has done business with, Dymond referenced two big firms he has publicly mentioned in the past — Canadian engineering firm Hatch and Italian defence company Leonardo.

In an email to CBC News, Leonardo spokeswoman Helen Haxell said the company met with Dymond “on a couple of occasions to explore potential opportunities for collaboration. These have not been taken forward.”

A St. John’s-based official at Hatch said he would need permission from Dymond to speak. Dymond told CBC he granted it. But Hatch didn’t return a followup message.

Interactions with province

Dymond has also indicated the provincial government supports his plans, while stressing that he is not looking for government cash.

In September, Industry Minister Andrew Parsons told the Appalachian community newspaper that he was “an observer, same as everyone else.”

This week, Parsons told CBC News that remains the case. “At this point, it’s very much hands off,” he said.

Parsons said he had a couple of virtual meetings with Dymond last year, to basically be kept in the loop on progress with the proposal.

“It’s very much been a process between Stephenville and Mr. Dymond,” Parsons said.

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Newfoundland and Labrador Industry Minister Andrew Parsons says the province is not playing a role in discussions that could see the Stephenville airport sold. (Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada)

The minister confirmed that there has been no “financial ask” made to the province.

“We don’t really have a role, per se, in the contract or the deliberations,” Parsons said.

“But of course, we would love to see something that makes full utilization of that airport.” 

At last year’s announcement in Stephenville, Dymond told CBC News, “We’ve had good support from the premier’s office.”

An access-to-information request for any correspondence — written or electronic — between Dymond or Dymond Group officials and anyone in the premier’s office for the eight-plus months prior to the September announcement turned up nothing.

Dymond did meet with Premier Andrew Furey in late October.

That meeting also failed to generate any records, according to a followup access-to-information request, except for a notification marking it in Furey’s calendar.

The premier’s office issued a brief statement to CBC News when asked about Dymond’s past comments.

“Our government is supportive of any opportunity to create economic development in Newfoundland and Labrador, provided due diligence is carried out,” it noted. 

“This particular deal is between the Stephenville Airport Authority and the proponent.”

Board member links proposal to Amazon 

Dymond told CBC News in January that his business interests in Newfoundland and Labrador are separate from the Dymond Group of Companies.

According to public filings, he incorporated a federally registered numbered company last August, weeks before the announcement in Stephenville.

Dymond is the sole director. The registered office is located on Torbay Road in St. John’s. He is calling it the Greater N.L. Partnership.

The status of his plans for the airport in Stephenville are unclear right now.

Dymond declined repeated interview requests. Airport authority board members aren’t granting interviews either.

Board chairperson Trevor Murphy did send a brief email reply Wednesday, in response to an inquiry from CBC News about the status of the sale.

“Both parties have their legal counsel in place and are working to put together all of the documents and instruments required for a transaction of this nature,” Murphy wrote.

“This is a significant undertaking for both sides and requires a great deal of care to ensure that it is done correctly.”

But a board member did speak publicly in September, not long after the initial announcement, about what could happen.

Chester Coffin — who was a Port aux Basques town councillor at the time and continues to serve on the Stephenville Airport Authority board — provided an update to his colleagues at the town. 

According to Port aux Basques council meeting minutes, Coffin said Dymond’s announcement would not only affect Stephenville, and there would be “at least 3,000 jobs associated with Amazon.”

It’s not clear where that information came from. Coffin declined to comment when reached by CBC News. Dymond described it as part of a long-term plan that is being actively pursued, but indicated they are nowhere near a deal with Amazon. He said he is still trying to connect with the right contacts there through the online professional networking service LinkedIn.

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An Amazon spokesperson told CBC News it does not have any ‘definitive plans or comments on our future road map in Atlantic Canada.’ In September, a member of the Stephenville Airport Authority board publicly linked a pending sale of the western Newfoundland facility to plans for ‘at least 3,000 jobs associated with Amazon.’ (Thomas Trompeter/Shutterstock)

The e-commerce giant is not confirming any interest in western Newfoundland.

​​”Amazon is a dynamic business and we are constantly exploring new locations and weighing a variety of factors when deciding where to develop future sites to best serve customers,” spokesman Dave Bauer said in an email to CBC News.

“We are so pleased that our delivery station in Halifax has created great jobs and is making a positive difference for customers in the area. At this time, however, we do not have definitive plans or comments on our future road map in Atlantic Canada.”

Meanwhile, the people of Stephenville are waiting for definitive plans in the near future as well, as they wait to see what news the coming weeks may deliver.

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Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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