Despite slumping oil prices, a weak Canadian dollar and job loss throughout the Alberta oil industry, the head of the Comox Valley Airport said he’s “super happy” with a 10 per cent growth in passenger numbers for the past year.
On June 23, CEO Fred Bigelow addressed the year in review during the airport’s annual public meeting, and explained passenger traffic at YQQ reached an all-time high of 351,530 in 2015.
“It is good news … especially if you look at what we overcame.”
The airport weathered the economic storm of the past year, and came out in a good position, Bigelow said, although they did feel the impact with the loss of charter flights – both to sunspot destinations and to the Alberta oil patch.
“It was like someone pulled a light switch; it got turned off very quickly. It was a huge impact.”
Because of the economic downslide in Alberta, WestJet cancelled 88 flights per week between B.C. and Alberta early in 2016.
Bigelow said the airline moved many of its assets out east to Ontario, but both flights to and from the Comox and Victoria airports were spared.
He credits the “fairly resident economy” in the Valley as well as its population demographic, which has a high propensity to travel.
Bigelow added in May of 2015, Air Canada Jazz flights returned to the airport, and routes have remained stable.
As for the future of transborder flights, he noted the airport has a very good relationship with Alaska Airlines.
“(Alaska) just signed an … agreement with Pacific Coastal (Airlines) for cargo. It’s very possible they could be shipping seafood (from the Valley). Opening that door through Pacific Coastal is huge.”
The airport is considered an Airport of Entry from November through April for Canada Border Services Agency, meaning it provides customs and immigration services for incoming flights.
Bigelow explained around $2,500 is saved each time a plane with 160 passenger lands at the airport by having the office at YQQ, rather than having custom agents on-call.
“It’s a huge thing for Puerto Vallarta traffic.”
He added he is working on full-time status to facilitate transborder flights year-round, but cautioned, “it won’t happen overnight.”
The updated five-year strategic plan was also unveiled, with its mission adjusted to recognize the link between air service and the local economy, and its goals to focus on air service development, fiscal responsibility, master planning and employee retention.
To view the strategic plan and accountability report, visit comoxairport.com.