Hawkair’s plans to return summer service to the Prince Rupert Airport have changed.
The company will not be returning airline service to the Digby Island airport, as previously expected, said Hawkair president Jay Dilley last week.
After pulling its service beginning Dec. 1 of last year, the company was expecting to return to Prince Rupert as traffic typically grows in the summer months, but that’s not what the industry has been experiencing this year in B.C., the president said.
“We had intended on coming back in the summer time and we had sold basically two flights – a Monday flight and a Friday flight. A number of weeks back we had one of the backers on that flight pull out and the other one was committed, so we pre-sold the entire summer,” said the president.
“You’re left with a partially full plane and with that case … it was going to be very difficult to try and fill those empty seats once someone had pulled out, so unfortunately we’ve decided not to come back.”
Dilley explained that it was in the fish camp industry that Hawkair worked with to sell a bulk of their seats and without that guarantee, it would have been tough to return and turn a profit.
“It was more dependent on a big block of the plane being sold and provide special accommodation to the people coming into the lodges,” he said.
With the Prince Rupert Airport being a higher cost airport to run in and out of for airlines, ticket prices need to be artificially higher to compensate for some of that cost, Dilley explained. If some major projects enter into the equation in Prince Rupert and tip the scales into cheaper ticket territory, then Hawkair may just return under the right conditions.
“We’re positive and optimistic about some of these projects. If that can then decrease that cost, automatically you’re going to see ticket prices start to come down … For us we don’t have the ability to say ‘You know what, we’re going to lose money on a Rupert-Vancouver, Terrace-Vancouver [flight] and we’re going to make money on a Vancouver-Toronto’. We’re regional, we’re a small airline. We have to make money on every single flight or we can’t do it. So that’s why we don’t have the ability to stick around when the other guys are going to maybe lose money in a different market for six months to a year,” said Dilley.
And it’s not just Prince Rupert that’s experiencing a decline in traffic. The Northwest Regional Airport in Terrace/Kitimat has had flights pulled by multiple airlines flying to parts of B.C. and Alberta as well as had a rise in average ticket price.
Traffic numbers in Terrace have experienced a substantial decrease in passengers which has led to fewer flights per day from Air Canada and WestJet, who have been turning their gaze to eastern Canada recently with more activity going on there, said Dilley.
“When you’re flying 20 people on a 70-seat aircraft or 10 people on a 50-seat aircraft to Calgary, it doesn’t take long for people to go ‘Wait a minute, this doesn’t make much sense’,” he said.
Hawkair also exited out of the office space rental lease they had initiated with the Aquilini Group, which owns the Highliner Hotel in the winter.
Hawkair’s planes that were operating out of Prince Rupert moved to Kelowna and that move has seen some success however, the president said.
“It’s been great. We’re doing a flight from Kelowna to Prince George and then over, so we’re seeing better traction in that market. Obviously we’re not fighting directly against Air Canada and WestJet – they don’t do those routes. So it gives us the ability to bring people to Terrace that maybe would have had to go the other way and take a lot longer,” Dilley said.
Currently Hawkair’s route network includes Vancouver, Terrace, Kitimat, Dawson Creek, Kelowna and Prince George.