The former chair of the Edmonton Oilers said losing the City Centre Airport would have a greater economic impact than if the city lost the Oilers.

Cal Nichols, now chairman of the Alberta Enterprise Group, was quoted as saying that closing the airport could economically hurt Edmonton more than if the city lost the Oilers.

Nichols announced in March that he would be taking a voluntary leave of absence from his role with the Oilers to pursue matters related to the Alberta Enterprise Group, which is fighting to continue running the airport.

While speaking to the media Thursday Nichols said the Oilers bring in about $125 million a year into the city's economy. But he estimated that the airport puts in far more with $270 million a year into the local economy.

"If we lose everything that is attributable to the City Centre Airport it's probably double what the amount of the Oilers are," said Nichols.

Mayor Stephen Mandel said he feels differently on the issue.

"I don't think the Oilers have anything to do with the airport," said Mandel. "(City) council has to make a decision on what the values are to this city."

The first of three days scheduled for hearings on the value of the City Centre Airport started Wednesday at city hall.

City council is expected to hear from hundreds of people on the fate of the airport.

Once the hearings wrap up, it's expected that city council will vote on the fate of the City Centre Airport on July 8th.

With files from Joel Gotlib