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Passenger numbers continue to climb at Nanaimo Airport

Added air carriers and rising passenger numbers will drive facilities and equipment upgrades at Nanaimo Airport.

More than 250,000 people flew to and from the airport in 2013, an increase of more than 21 per cent over 2012 figures. Statistics for January of this year, when more than 17,500 people took off and landed at YCD, are also up more than 35 per cent compared to January 2013.

Much of the additional passenger and aircraft movements are the result of new air carriers that have set up shop at the airport and there are hints of more flight destinations being added in the future.

Direct flights to Edmonton, Alta., are on the horizon, but Mike Hooper, Nanaimo Airport president and CEO, isn’t ready to talk openly about an exact date or which air carrier is looking at scheduling those.

“It would be a new carrier, but that’s really the carrier’s announcement and then there’s a chance the carrier we’re talking to might not do it either,” Hooper said.

Since the airport’s runway extension and terminal renovation, it has continually focused on expanding flight services to western Canada and the U.S. Pacific Northwest as its top priorities. The airport will look at farther flung vacation destinations, such as Hawaii and Cuba, once flights to its primary service regions are locked in.

“We’re hopeful for some activity going to Edmonton in the next six months or so, but we’ll keep going on a number of locations,” Hooper said.

The airport is just the air carriers’ service provider. The carriers establish whether current and future traffic warrants the expenditure of scheduling flights to a given market.

Charter air carriers new to YCD are primarily ferrying workers to mills and oil and gas operations in northern B.C. and Alberta, making significant contributions to passenger traffic through Nanaimo.

Hawk Air now makes regular charter flights to Terrace, B.C., and other coastal communities, while North Cariboo Air ferries work crews to locations north of Edmonton.

Air Canada and West Jet are the main people movers, but charter carriers and freight companies, such as Purolator, Fedex, plus smaller passenger carriers like Kenmore Air are all adding to revenues the airport derives from aircraft services, rentals and fuel sales.

Swelling passenger manifests also mean Nanaimo Airport must meet regulation requirements of larger airports for firefighting and other services. YCD will purchase a new $800,000 fire truck within the next 12 months to enhance the airport’s firefighting capability.

“As we go forward we’re going to increase the capacity for foam and water, so it’s a bigger truck,” Hooper said. “We’re going to further supplement the training of the staff at YCD. It will be a less than three-minute response to any issue on airport lands.”

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