The man at the helm of Nanaimo Airport is taking off.
Mike Hooper will be retiring from his role as president and chief executive officer with the Nanaimo Airport (YCD) in June 2020.
Hooper told the News Bulletin that after 14 years, the time to move on has come.
“Most CEOs are in place for about eight years, I’ve been here for 14 years and I think it is a really healthy thing to do for an organization, to bring in new perspectives,” he said.
Under Hooper’s leadership, the Nanaimo Airport has experienced significant growth in passenger numbers and is now the second-busiest airport on Vancouver Island, having handled 435,349 passengers in 2018. Since 2016, the Nanaimo airport has handled more than 1.2 million passengers. Between 2006 and 2011, the total number of passengers the airport handled was 930,000.
“From 2008 to 2019 it was 235 per cent growth…” Hooper said. “It is a substantial amount of growth and because of that we are generating more jobs and money is coming into the economy, direct and indirect, $486 million per year,” Hooper said.
The Nanaimo Airport has also undergone an array of upgrades and improvements during Hooper’s time, with the extension of the runway, installation of an instrument landing system, new lighting and electronic runway condition reporting systems as well as an expanded fire hall. The terminal building was also expanded in 2012 and is currently undergoing the first phase of a $55-million expansion.
“It’s just a continuous improvement process,” Hooper said.
When Hooper took the job in 2006, Air Canada was the main passenger airline serving the airport.
Today, WestJet operates non-stop flights to Calgary and Vancouver while Air North operates passenger service to the Yukon via Kelowna and Prince George. Air Canada has also offered non-stop service to Toronto on a seasonal basis for the past two years and other operators such as FedEx and Alkan Air have made Nanaimo a part of their operations.
Hooper said he’s proud that the airport is able to offer better and more reliable services to the community than it did 14 years ago.
“Now that we deliver reliably to Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto, it really helps the people in our region to travel more seamlessly and because we have a number of carriers offering products, we’ve also brought the price down,” he said.
While the airport has grown, Hooper said it wasn’t without challenges. He said one biggest challenges for him was when the airport decided to expand the runway to its current length of 6,602 feet.
“We had to extend the runway in the sense that it was 5,000 feet but Transport Canada took 1,000 feet away because there were trees in the flight path,” he said.
However, extending the runway also meant the removal of hundreds of trees, which Hooper said, was problematic because of where they were located.
“The very first challenge we addressed was removing 250 logging truck loads of trees from 23 properties without having the legal right to go on the properties,” he said. “We managed to get that done that in six months. It was a very interesting project.”
At the end of the day, Hooper said he’s confident about the Nanaimo Airport’s long-term future, explaining that the airport has a 20-year master plan that envisions additional development. He also said he’s really proud of the “solid team” of employees and is thankful to all the volunteers at the airport.
“We have a really good culture on site and the campus of the full group, whether it is the Nanaimo Flying Club, the air carriers, the flight service station, the regulators, everybody works really well as a team,” Hooper said. It’s very powerful if you can have that kind of culture go across the different groups.”
For Hooper personally, he said his future will likely involve some consulting work.
“I might take another project on or full-time gig,” he said. “I am going to look at it carefully. It will probably be a mix of consulting and sitting on boards.”
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