A report commissioned for the Prince Rupert and District Chamber of Commerce notes the low capacity of the Digby Island Ferry could push companies to fly workers in to Terrace.

Report outlines challenges facing Prince Rupert airport due to capacity of Digby Island Ferry

The Digby Island Ferry could lead to liquefied natural gas companies looking elsewhere when it comes to bringing workers to the North Coast.

The Digby Island Ferry and its lack of capacity could lead to liquefied natural gas companies looking elsewhere when it comes to bringing workers to the North Coast, according to a report commissioned by the Prince Rupert and District Chamber of Commerce.

The Digby Island Ferry Capacity Analysis notes that, due in part to its inability to handle a number of larger buses, the current capacity of the ferry is 156 people per sailing.

“There are a number of probable scenarios in which 156 passengers per sailing would be a constraint on the ability of the airport to move people in and out of Prince Rupert. The ferry is, therefore, the limiting link in airport passenger capacity,” reads the report, which was produced by Operations Economics Inc. (OEI) of Vancouver, adding contractors want to move more than 156 passenger per hour due to economies of scale.

“The ferry already provides a low quality of service, as experienced by passengers. In a high-growth scenario, this quality of service would decline further and be unacceptable. It is unlikely that LNG companies and major construction companies would find 156 passengers per hour as an acceptable level of passenger arrival and departure. They will therefore probably find another way to move workers in and out of Prince Rupert.”

While the report notes that the terminal could handle a B737-200 charter in one trip, a Q400 and a Dash 8 in one trip and two Q400s in one trip, a problem arises if companies use B737 flights. The report notes the planes, which are 136 seat planes, were often landed two at a time when Fort Nelson experienced significant development. Should project proponents use these planes, two sailings would be needed to accommodate one B737 and a Dash 8 or one B737 plus current evening flights. Should two B737s land at the same time, three sailings would be needed. As well, the report notes “the arrival of multiple aircraft in the evening on an ongoing basis would require an extension to the operating window of the ferry because it would require an additional final sailing in the evening”.

In the cases where B737s are brought in, passengers would be waiting two to three hours before arriving in Prince Rupert.

In terms of service quality, the report found the total travel and fares for people travelling through Prince Rupert is longer and higher than comparative terminals, while the appearance and comfort of passengers is also below other comparable airports.

All told, the report notes the overall airport experience could have some workers and companies looking east.

“As the current quality of service compares poorly to other options now, one can assume that passengers will not accept services which would be considered worse in the future. For example, the scenarios which include a B737 and another aircraft arriving at the same time assume that some departing passengers would take 180 minutes (or three hours) from departure from an origin in Prince Rupert until departure from the Prince Rupert Airport,” reads the report, noting “keeping 156 tradespeople waiting would be expensive”.

“This is an interesting scenario, but would not be accepted by passengers who have the option of driving to the Terrace-Kitimat … one can assume that no passenger will fly to Prince Rupert knowing in advance they will have to wait for the second ferry upon arrival or departure.”

As for options to address the situation, the report recommends examining either a larger ferry or second ferry, or re-siting the current Du Vernet terminal to Tobey Point. Before either could be done, however, the report recommends addressing issues related to dock weight capacity and vehicle loading angle, which “will both be a significant limiting factor in the medium-to-long term if motor coaches are used as a means of transporting passengers on the ferry”.

At the same time as recommending the improvements, the report notes that the Digby Island Ferry has run an average deficit of $852,000 over the past four years.

Among those interviewed by OEI in the making of the report were representatives from Pacific NorthWest LNG, the BG Group, the Prince Rupert Port Authority, the Prince Rupert Airport, the City of Prince Rupert and the Digby Island Ferry captain.