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Comox Valley Airport's passenger numbers soar like never before
The Comox Valley Airport served the highest number of passengers yet during its 2012/2013 fiscal year, giving it a six-per-cent increase, reported CEO Fred Bigelow at YQQ's annual public meeting.
Bigelow said last week the nearly 328,000 passengers served in 2012/2013 is "nothing to sneeze at," and the average growth of airports across North America was 1.3 per cent.
But, he also cautioned about 7,000 of those passengers, equalling about two per cent of that six-per-cent growth, used an Air Transat charter route to sunspot destinations, which will not operate out of Comox this winter season.
He also pointed out WestJet continues to have a growth "explosion," noting new agreements with international carriers.
"WestJet's made a point of having code-share and interline agreements with a number of international carriers that works both ways in terms of bringing folks from out of the country into their domestic network and visa-versa," explained Bigelow. "This is good for WestJet and what's good for WestJet is good for the Comox Valley."
He noted WestJet's new Encore operated route, which makes serving smaller airports feasible is a "good news-bad news or a bad news-good news story" for YQQ.
"The bad news is, quite frankly, they went to Nanaimo," he said, adding a single flight from Nanaimo to Calgary is now offered and that means people who used to drive to YQQ to fly to Calgary can now fly out of the smaller Nanaimo Airport.
"We did our own analysis on this; the sky is not falling," he added. "We're going to feel it but it's not that significant."
Meanwhile, he said the Encore service means scheduling improvement opportunities for YQQ, noting, for example, WestJet usually cancels an early morning flight to Calgary in September due to decreased demand. But with the smaller aircraft this flight could operate 12 months of the year.
Bigelow also said the airport attended airline headquarter meetings in 2012/2013 in an effort to expand YQQ's air services network, and it presented business cases to five airlines at the Airport Council International - North America Jumpstart conference in Sacramento, Calif.
He noted airlines told him airport fees are a concern because they have to pass those onto their customers. Because there is no customs office in the Valley, YQQ must pay to bring customs officers in, usually from Nanaimo, and those fees must be passed onto the carriers.
"We've made application with Border Services Agency for a certain amount of free service, and frankly, I'm convinced that we're entitled to some…I'm convinced that we are not only entitled but we should be seeing that," he said, noting he expects to hear back within the next couple of weeks. "The result is our terminal fees, which used to be in the order of $20, are going to be dropped significantly, which should be attractive."
YQQ hired a consulting company during the spring to find out how North Island residents are getting to the United States, and Bigelow reported that about 90 per cent don't go through YQQ. About 40 per cent take the ferry to Vancouver's airport, about a third drive to Victoria, and about 12 per cent drive to Seattle or Bellingham.
"This is juicy information to take to a transport or carrier because what they see here is they see an airport like Comox where there's not a lot of competition, they see our fees are relatively good…" he said, adding YQQ will be using this information when trying to expand its air services.
The record breaking passenger numbers in 2012 contributed to nearly 33 per cent in additional revenue compared to the previous year, Bigelow said. The airport also had a $564,518 net surplus in its 2013 compared to $423,499 in 2012.
The new cellphone tower, and the airport's new website, have both received positive feedback from users.