Looking ahead at the summer, Mike Atkins is cautiously optimistic.
He knows there is pent-up demand for travel, but understands there needs to be a level of comfort and safety for passengers with pandemic and post-pandemic travel, particularly in aviation.
Atkins is the chief executive officer of the Comox Valley Airport (YQQ), a role he took over in the midst of the pandemic in October 2020. While he is relatively new at the position, as the former 19 Wing commander, he understands not only the Comox Valley but the aviation industry as well.
As with other airports across the country and world, passenger numbers have plummeted throughout the past year, but he is hopeful some signals from airlines operating out of the airport indicate signs of recovery to the hard-hit industry.
“Starting at the end of the month, all airlines (from YQQ) have a very aggressive schedule,” he noted. “We’ll go from very little to having four airplanes remaining overnight.”
Atkins said as a whole, the airport was always able to remain fully staffed since the start of the pandemic, thanks to the Canada Emergency Response Benefit which assisted in covering more than $700,000 in wages. They also received funding from the provincial government for ongoing operational costs and have applied for funding through the Regional Air Transportation Initiative, a $206-million federal government program to aid in the return in services in regional air transportation.
At the start of the pandemic, YQQ lost services from Air Canada; Pacific Coastal Airlines paused their operations to and from the airport to Vancouver for about a month and while WestJet reduced their flight frequency, they did not pause their service and continue to service the airport.
“(At the end of the month) Pacific Coastal will offer three flights daily, WestJet will fly to Calgary twice a day and will have a direct to Edmonton flight, along with WestJet link (to Vancouver) and a direct flight to Toronto. Right now, Air Canada will fly three days a week, and that may change to daily service,” said Atkins.
In terms of the return of the Comox to Puerto Vallarta direct flight in the fall, Atkins noted there is still uncertainly around international travel as he is unsure what government regulations may be in place by then.
“We are always looking at new routes and opportunities,” he added.
With hopes of travellers returning, one of the main projects currently underway at the terminal building is the relocation of the pre-board screening area. Atkins explained the goal is to increase the distance between passengers in addition to the holding room, particularly when there are multiple flights arriving and departing.
On June 23, the Comox Valley Airport will host their virtual annual general meeting at 3 p.m. For more information, visit comoxairport.com.