Nanaimo Airport is starting to see business increase with COVID-19 travelling restrictions being eased, said Dave Devana, president and CEO. (News Bulletin file)

Nanaimo Airport is starting to see business increase with COVID-19 travelling restrictions being eased, said Dave Devana, president and CEO. (News Bulletin file)

Nanaimo Airport ‘a lot busier,’ but passenger counts still far from pre-pandemic levels

An estimated 20,000 passengers travelled through YCD in July, says airport CEO

Nanaimo Airport passenger numbers took a dive due to COVID-19, but recent relaxation of travelling restrictions is helping YCD take off again, says its top executive.

Dave Devana, airport president and CEO, said there was a marked drop in people flying in and out of the airport over the last year and a half. This past May, there were 7,600 passengers, as opposed to close to 42,000 in the same month in 2019. June saw 11,000 passengers and passenger numbers continued to climb in July, with an estimated 20,000.

“In 2020, when the pandemic was first called, business was down 96 per cent,” said Devana. “For the bulk of 2020, it was down about 85 per cent on average and here now, since … domestic travel is allowed, we’re up to about 40 per cent of normal. It’s a lot busier around here and we’re happy that the customers are coming back, but it’s still nowhere near where we were in 2019.”

Money from various levels of government have helped keep YCD afloat, according to Devana, including an announcement last week of $1.38 million from the Government of Canada.

“It’s intended to maintain our operations, so a lot of the money’s going into deferred maintenance: maintaining roads, fixing the taxiways … then there is some assistance there to help us with operating costs while we transition from what we were in 2020, back to our regular business,” Devana said.

In addition, the B.C. government announced a $720,000 financial lifeline in March. There has been additional funding available for capital programs and the airport is in the midst of a $14.2-million capital improvement program this summer.

“We did what we call a mill-and-fill project out on the front apron, and that was about $500,000. We’re moving from asphalt apron for where the planes all park. We’re moving to a concrete apron, so that’s better because in the summer the big planes come in and they kind of sink into the pavement … and then we’re doing an overlay of our entire runway to make it good for the next 30 years.”

Devana said he is happy that routes are increasing in frequency.

“We were going once a day to Vancouver and four times a week to Calgary during the worst of this,” said Devana. “Now we’re going four times a day to Vancouver, we’re going two times a day to Calgary. WestJet’s added the Edmonton route which … is back this summer and also Air Canada brought back Toronto, so we’re very pleased with that.”

While business seems to be bolstered, Devana reiterated what he told Black Press in November; it will take some years for business to absolutely recover, based on the idea that international travel won’t recover as fast as domestic travel.

“We still think that we’re not going to get back to 2019 numbers, definitely not in 2021, likely not in 2022, but maybe in early 2023 we’ll get back to where we kind of were before,” said Devana. “We feed the bigger airports, Vancouver and Calgary specifically, with some of their international customers. There’s a lot of restrictions to travel internationally still.”

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