Passenger traffic at the Northwest Regional Airport has remained surprisingly strong despite the completion of large-scale industrial projects, says its manager.
Passenger totals for 2015 of 239,095 were down just seven per cent compared to 2014, said Carman Hendry.
And while this January’s total of 15,713 was a drop from the 17,114 passenger total for January 2015, traffic for February bounced back.
“We were down just 81 passengers, barely one per cent,” said Hendry of February 2016’s total 17,069 compared to the February 2015 total of 17,150.
“And what we’re hearing is that March was very strong,” Hendey added.
He said the non-profit society which operates the airport has been surprised that passenger numbers are holding given that large projects such as Rio Tinto Alcan’s Kitimat smelter rebuild have been winding down.
Crew changes for mining development, including the Brucejack gold mine being built by Pretium Resources near Stewart, and other projects result in four bus loads of workers cycling through the airport each week.
One reason for the numbers holding, Hendry believes, comes from the introduction of WestJet’s Encore service to Terrace and area.
“Having another national airline which can connect people right across the country is a draw,” he said.
That WestJet and Air Canada are competitors has also resulted in attractive pricing, Hendry continued.
“Our [service] area has expanded. We’re seeing people from a few communities we haven’t seen people from before,” he said.
But despite steady passenger numbers, the airlines have been reducing flight frequency.
Air Canada cut one Vancouver-Terrace round trip flight service earlier and WestJet is no longer operating its early morning flight to Vancouver and late night return to Terrace service as of this month.
“What the airlines are doing is putting the same number of people on fewer aircraft. Those flights are now fuller,” said Hendry.
And Hendry said WestJet told him it needed to shift aircraft from Western Canada to Eastern Canada as it expands its Encore service across the country.
He said the airport still offers lots of choices of flights – on weekdays four flights from Air Canada to Vancouver, two from WestJet to Vancouver, one from Central Mountain Airlines (using a Hawkair aircraft) to Vancouver and a Central Mountain flight (again using a Hawkair aircraft) to Prince George.
“The more people use the airport, the more the services there will be more the community,” said Hendry.