Time is something passengers travelling to the Prince Rupert Airport have a little more of these days.
Passengers now have approximately 20-30 minutes more time from when they land on Digby Island to when they’re on the ferry to Prince Rupert.
“We sat down with the bus company, with the ferry, with Air Canada staff, and said we need to figure out a way to get the people into town quicker. This one hour is just way to long. Well, we’ve gotten it down to literally under 20 minutes and you’re moving,” Paul Vendittelli said, the board chair for the Prince Rupert Airport Society and the economic development officer for the City of Prince Rupert.
This is the first time in the past 20 years that city administration has been allowed on the board.
In January 2017, the bylaw was amended to allow city employees to become a member of the Airport Society. Previously, elected officials or employees of the city were not permitted to be appointed as directors of the board.
That same year, three city employees were appointed including Vendittelli, Richard Pucci and Rory Mandryk.
Appointing them made sense, the city said. Vendittelli had been a helicopter pilot and worked at Air Canada for 15 years, he understands the airport first hand. Pucci, the city’s director of operations, is prime to look after the airport road and infrastructure. Mandryk, the city’s corporate administrator has a human resources background and is able to work on improving management at the airport.
“These changes were made to improve communication and organizational coherence between the airport, and the ferry and the bus service that bring passengers to the airport,” Mayor Lee Brain said in April 2017 after council appointed the three new members to the Airport Society board.
After years of “multiple logistical issues” that caused delays at the airport due to a lack of communication between service providers the mayor said they saw these appointments “as a way to close this communication gap.”
The new board wanted to tackle the biggest complaint, the amount of time spent waiting from when passengers got off the plane to when the buses were moving to the city ferry.
To make improvements, they worked with the bus company, the ferry, Air Canada staff and the board hired a new airport manager, Rick Leach.
In a year they’ve shaved off the length of time it would take to watch a sitcom. Now, the board is looking to improve timeliness for passengers departing Prince Rupert.
“We actually want people to claim their luggage downtown one day,” Vendittelli said on Aug. 9 from his office in city hall.
With improvements in time, there is still the growing competition with the Terrace Northwest Regional Airport.
“We know that there is some leakage to Terrace, people flying out of Terrace,” Vendittelli said.
“It’s difficult because, in the aviation world, fairs and schedules dictate traffic, that’s what drives numbers, that’s what moves people through your airport.”
On Aug. 8, WestJet announced twice-weekly, non-stop flights between Calgary and Terrace starting this September.
While the Northwest Regional Airport had seen 130,311 passengers from the start of the year until the end of July, the Prince Rupert Airport had seen 34,145.
However, both airports saw slightly less passengers when comparing the same time last year. Terrace’s airport had 64 more passengers in the previous year, and Prince Rupert had 42 more passenger.
Despite Air Canada adding a third flight on week days out of Prince Rupert for the summer months, the passenger growth has remained stagnant.
To boost numbers, the Airport Society is looking for other opportunities to improve services, such as seeing if another company can be added to offer direct flights to Victoria, or maybe working with Air Canada to add the option.
“Part of economic development is you want to attract other businesses, but you want to make sure the ones that are here right now, and the ones that have stuck it with you when things are tough, you want to make sure that they’re doing well and they’re happy,” he said.
Keeping passengers happy is also key.
While some may chose to fly out of Terrace for cheaper fares there are some risks, such as last winter when there were four highway closures and many more delays for avalanche control. Some people missed their flights, or were stuck in Terrace and unable to return home.
Since the beginning of this year up until mid-August, the Prince Rupert Airport has had 13 flights cancelled for various reasons. Five of those cancellations were between July 24-29 due to the fog.
Vendittelli said despite the fog, the Prince Rupert Airport has a further advantage — it’s at sea level with no mountains.