Northwest Regional Airport passenger totals for 2017 came in at three per cent over 2016, a sign its general manager is taking as a “new normal” for the region’s largest airport.
“It’s a good number,” said Carman Hendry of 2017’s 224,144 passengers when compared to 2016’s 218,739.
The airport experienced explosive growth in the middle part of this decade thanks to Rio Tinto Alcan’s aluminum smelter modernization project, BC Hydro’s Northwest Transmission Line and speculation surrounding the potential for a regional liquefied natural gas industry.Passenger numbers passed through the 250,000 mark in 2014 before dropping to 239,095 in 2015 and then dipping again in 2016.
Hendry said construction activity at Pretium’s Brucejack gold mine near Stewart, which then officially went into production last spring, helped boost 2017’s total.
“And we’re seeing more people vacation in Hawaii and Mexico,” he said of other traffic.
The announcement late last year that Rio Tinto is going ahead with a second tunnel at its Kemano hydro-electric generating station, a project worth US $473 million, will bolster traffic this year, Hendry added.
“We’re certainly going to see activity there,” he said when the project gets underway and as specialized work crews cycle in and out of the project.
And as traffic increases, the airport’s major construction expansion project to increase the efficiency of checking in passengers and to improve overall operations is nearing completion.
“We’re looking at March to be finished and our new hold room should be open Feb. 6,” said Hendry of the expansion project which, at $15 million, is being financed by federal and provincial grants and airport user fees.
The hold room by itself will be much larger, and have more washrooms, than the old one, adding to the comfort of passengers waiting to depart.
That additional space was needed because the airport’s two major customers, WestJet and Air Canada, often have aircraft leaving at approximately the same time.
The project is approximately 13 months behind schedule, a circumstance brought on at its early phases by winter weather and worker availability, but Hendry said it remains on budget.
“And we haven’t had to borrow any money,” he added.
When finished and fully open, Hendry said the new facilities should by themselves help market the airport as the region’s prime entry and exit point for air cargo and passengers.
“We’re the most reliable airport in the region,” he added of a list of improvements including a new aircraft landing system enabling pilots to land during inclement weather.
Next up on the airport’s capital projects list is repaving its main runway, something Hendry says is being planned for in the next year.
“This is something that should be done every 15 years and the last time was in 2001,” he said.
The project is estimated to cost in the range of $8 to $9 million and the expectation is that it will be financed by a federal airport improvement program.