New economic opportunities for Nanaimo will officially take flight Monday (June 24) as WestJet begins regional direct flight service to Calgary from Nanaimo Airport.
On board the inaugural flight – after a brief ceremony at Nanaimo Airport – will be Nanaimo Mayor John Ruttan and a delegation of mid-Island dignitaries, travelling to Calgary to use the occasion as an opportunity to pitch Nanaimo to the Alberta business community and enhance interprovincial economic development.
Ruttan will be accompanied by several Island representatives, though the number was reduced from the original 30 delegates due to severe flooding in Calgary’s downtown core, which has closed many of the areas the group intended to visit. Southern Alberta was struck with heavy flooding due to torrential rains late this week. At least 12 communities have declared a state of emergency as rivers flood their banks.
The mission is expected to continue in a reduced capacity in a bid to support WestJet and forge new economic opportunities.
“We feel, with reason, that there is a fairly strong interest in Alberta but specifically in Calgary for the business community there in looking at Nanaimo,” said Ruttan. “There are already a number of investments that are Calgary-based in the Nanaimo area but there are also more and more people who want to live on central Vancouver Island and commute to the oil sands … all in all it’s a great opportunity.”
The cost to send each delegate for the two-day trip – Team Nanaimo is expected back on June 26 – is about $1,200, which includes $440 for the return flight and $438 for two nights at Calgary’s Delta Bow Valley Hotel.
Sasha Angus, CEO of NEDC, said despite the challenges posed by the flooding, there remains a great interest on both sides to pursue business interests.
“A lot of our meetings were with Calgary Stampede, Calgary Tourism. Stampede is the week after so a lot of those guys are going to have their hands full,” said Angus. “Despite that, since this service has been announced I can’t even count the number of local companies that have approached us and mentioned how much business they do in Calgary and how much this will benefit them.”
WestJet announced its new Nanaimo-Calgary service in February. Initially, the air carrier will operate one flight a day from each city, leaving Calgary at 11 a.m. (MST) and arriving in Nanaimo at 11:43 a.m. (PST) before departing again for Calgary at 12:30 p.m. (PST).
The carrier will use its fleet of 78-passenger Canadian-built Bombardier Q400 NextGen turboprop aircraft on the route. Nanaimo was one of two B.C. destinations chosen out of more than 30 by WestJet for the launch of its new regional service. Fort St. John will now be connected to Vancouver and Calgary by Encore.
Mike Hooper, Nanaimo Airport CEO, said the airport has been enjoying record years for passenger numbers and the additional service will only serve to boost those numbers.
“As we go forward and have more services available through Air Canada Express and WestJet Encore we’ll see the ability of the airport to offer the appropriate services to the community,” said Hooper.
“We already have an excellent skybridge to YVR, a key hub, through our current carriers and this new service will open up another hub in Calgary so people have a growing list of options to go further in Canada or to head south.”
Monday’s itinerary at YCD includes a reception prior to the flight. Once in Calgary, Team Nanaimo will host an evening reception with a West-Coast theme.
On Tuesday, delegates will meet with their Calgary-based counterparts to drum up business interest for the mid-Island area before flying home Wednesday.