Passengers down, but optimism for future of YQQ

Comox Valley Airport CEO Fred Bigelow talks numbers last week at the airport’s annual public meeting followed by a celebration for the 10th anniversary of the terminal facility.  - Erin Haluschak
Comox Valley Airport CEO Fred Bigelow talks numbers last week at the airport’s annual public meeting followed by a celebration for the 10th anniversary of the terminal facility.
— image credit: Erin Haluschak

Although passenger numbers are down slightly from 2012 at the Comox Valley Airport, CEO Fred Bigelow said, “despite some passengers voting with their feet, I want them to know we’re back in business.”

At Wednesday’s annual public meeting, which was followed by a 10th anniversary celebration of the terminal facility, Bigelow attributed the approximate 4.5 per cent drop in passengers (313,186 in 2013 compared to 327,827 in 2012) to a few factors.

“We were anticipating this. We knew when we lost (Air) Transat we would feel that in the early months in 2013,” he said, adding in the early months of that year, WestJet began its Encore service from Nanaimo, with the impact “not as extreme, but we felt that.”

Along with earlier-than-anticipated foggy weather which reduced visibility down to less than a mile last fall, “nobody turned a wheel. How many passengers voted with their feet?” asked Bigelow. “I don’t have an idea, but it no doubt affected our passenger numbers.”

With WestJet’s recent announcement of increased flights for early 2015 out of YQQ, Bigelow anticipates that alone could provide an increase of four to five per cent.

“It will allow about 14 markets to connect through Calgary, oversees, further east or to the U.S.”

With the June announcement of the minimum instrument approach adopted by the Department of National Defence to prevent unnecessary cancellations and diversions in poor weather, the airport plans to launch a marketing campaign aimed at informing passengers about the airport’s reliability.

“We are targeting those passengers that may have experienced a delay or cancellation. Thankfully, this is no longer an issue … and I want them to know we’re back in business.”

Financially, the year was regarded as a success with a 16 per cent increase in revenue over expenses. While revenues were $93,000 lower in 2013/2014, the Comox Valley Airport Commission was able to reduce operating costs by more than $180,000, resulting in a $656,000 surplus to fund future infrastructure improvements such as parking lots and storage facilities.

Bigelow added he is also working with a “major carrier” with a goal of creating a codeshare connection to Seattle from the airport.

He noted only 11 per cent use the Comox Valley Airport to fly to the U.S., while 43 per cent of potential passengers use the Vancouver Airport, 34 per cent fly out of Victoria Airport, and 12 per cent drive to Washington state and fly out of Seattle or Bellingham.

“It’s a huge market we’d like a part of. We’ve made some progress as of late with one potential carrier and we’re working that pretty hard. It would be great if you don’t have to fight with ferries or border crossings.”

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