Officials at the Canadian Airports Council said the problem stems from myriad federal taxes, security charges and improvement fees, all amounting to a user-pay system for travellers in this country.
By contrast, aviation operations south of the border are heavily subsidized by the U.S. federal government, resulting in a relatively cheaper upfront bill for travellers.
Locally, approximately 26,000 passenger trips are lost each year to airports in New York State, namely Syracuse, Watertown and Massena, according to council president Daniel-Robert Gooch.
That works out to roughly 0.5 per cent of the 4.62 million passengers that flew through the Ottawa International Airport last year, but Mr. Gooch said it nevertheless represents lost jobs and regional economic benefits.
Addressing the disparity between the U.S. and Canadian systems will be the focus of a one-day forum hosted by the country's airports, carriers and related sectors.
Mr. Gooch said his association will be lobbying the federal government to lower the rent it charges local airport authorities, and to reduce passenger security surcharges.
Officials from the Ottawa International Airport Authority will attend the conference, but said there are no immediate plans to start directly trying to dissuade area travellers from driving across the border to catch their flight.
"We have not launched any direct advertising campaigns to promote our airport at the expense of any other airport," noted Michael Crockatt, the Ottawa airport's vice-president of business development and marketing, in an e-mail to OBJ.
"It's not something we've ruled out altogether, but it's not part of our current marketing strategy."
Instead, he said, the airport focuses on the passenger experience. It works to offer more direct flights to destinations, ensures that its amenities suit the passengers, and makes the screening and check-in process as efficient as it can.
So far, the effort seems to be paying off. Passenger traffic grew twice as fast as the country's other eight largest airports between 2006 and 2010, and its customers continue to heap praise on the local facility.
The airport recently ranked first overall in North America and second among airports of its size in an annual customer service benchmarking survey.
Recent and ongoing improvements include expanded parking facilities, free Wi-Fi Internet and expanded security and customs screening facilities.
The local airport authority collects improvement fees from passengers to help pay for such upgrades. Mr. Gooch acknowledged such fees are needed to make up for the lack of government support for capital upgrades. However, he said they still act as a financial barrier to flying that discourages the use of Canadian airports.
But with federal fees and taxes outside the airport's direct control, Mr. Crockatt said enhancing passenger amenities is one way of growing its customer base.
"We can't control the cost differential between the Canadian and U.S. aviation systems and we know that some passengers will use other airports at times to save money," he wrote.
"But the better we can make the experience for passengers in Ottawa, the more we believe they will want to fly through our airport."