Both Air Canada and WestJet on the ramp at the Comox Valley Airport. Photo by Comox Valley Airport

YQQ slides to third busiest airport on the Island, but numbers show growth

Despite a recent announcement that the Comox Valley Airport is no longer the second busiest airport on Vancouver Island, passenger numbers show the airport is growing.

As reported by Black Press, Nanaimo Airport (YCD) surpassed Comox (YQQ) to become Vancouver Island’s second busiest airport based on passenger numbers last year.

Nanaimo handled 435,349 passengers while YQQ handled just under 420,000 passengers; Victoria International Airport (YYJ) remains the Island’s busiest airport, handling 2.05 million passengers in 2018.

RELATED: Nanaimo Airport soars past Comox to become second-busiest airport on the Island

“It’s no big surprise,” said Comox Airport CEO Fred Bigelow about the friendly rivalry with the airport to the south.

“We kept wondering who would hit 400,000 first.”

Bigelow explained the numbers for YQQ show the growth in the area, and that YQQ and YCD have passenger catchment areas which overlap, particularly in the Oceanside and Port Alberni areas.

Prior to the Nanaimo Airport receiving WestJet Encore service, the only way to fly in the mid-Island direct to Calgary was either via Comox or Victoria.

Bigelow noted now that Nanaimo airport has the Calgary service, it has helped increase their numbers.

“Nanaimo does have about 50 per cent more people in the area, if you consider the Comox Valley has around 65,000. We’re doing pretty good when you look at the numbers.”

He also said YCD has a problem often referred to in the aviation industry called ‘leakage’: people who can easily leave Nanaimo via ferry to catch a flight out of the Vancouver International Airport. While he added that does happen for passengers living in the Comox Valley, the option is much more convenient for people living in Nanaimo.

Bigelow noted YQQ is always looking for opportunities for new routes and understands there is a demand for more sunspot destinations outside of the direct Comox to Puerto Vallarta route.

“Our main job is to feed the hubs – Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary. If I get you to (one of those places), you can go just about anywhere.”

He noted many people have inquired if ultra low-cost (ULC) carriers such as Swoop would enter the market in Comox, but added there are two primary factors when ULCs decide which market they will enter.

“They look at secondary airports because they have cheaper operating costs – our fees are some of the lowest in Canada. The second factor is a huge population base such as Abbotsford which can service the whole Lower Mainland. We’ve had discussions but they really want to see the numbers.”

Bigelow said he is “always keeping his ear to the ground” for new routes or carriers for the airport, and said a few American carriers “have been sniffing around,” but added airlines will always go where they know they can make money.

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