With Westjet weighing their options for a regional airline service, representatives from Prince Rupert were invited to Calgary to make their pitch to the company for a stop on the north coast.
YPR manager Rick Reed was joined by economic development officer Derek Baker and others to the meeting, with only 35 airports across Canada being invited. According to Reed, the meeting was a very productive one.
“They asked a lot of questions about the community, the demographics, age, income, traffic numbers for the past several years, ticket prices and the catchment area being served,” he said.
“I think if anyone has a chance, we do. We presented them with a business case developed by a consultant to develop a Prince Rupert to Vancouver flight which, using the same aircraft, carries on to Victoria. Other than Vancouver, the next biggest market people travel to is Victoria, and we showed them the business case that would support that route.”
So far this year, numbers at the airport are up 2.64 per cent compared to last year, excluding private flights using the airport, and Reed says the projection is for a three to five per cent increase by the end of the year.
“I would look at Prince Rupert’s economy as a strong and aggressive one that is definitely on the upswing. If the projections from the Prince Rupert Port Authority come to be, we’re going to see substantial growth in the next decade or more…The wages in the community are at a fairly high level, and that gives people more discretionary income. So we’re not only seeing an increase in business travel, but also in leisure travel,” said Reed.
“We emphasized that we’re not in a boom/bust economy, but are a community that is experiencing continued growth over the next decade.”
Westjet has purchased a fleet of 20 Q400 planes from Bombardier to launch their regional service, but people in the community and the province shouldn’t expect an answer or announcement any time soon.
“They told us they were gathering information from a number of communities and would be making a decision in April or May about routes,” he said.
“The decision has not been made if the service will first be launched in eastern Canada or western Canada or a combination of both.”
Regardless of Westjet’s decision, Reed said there are some big projects being looked at out on Digby Island that include redoing the asphalt on the runway and major renovations to the terminal building.
“We are, after all, the gateway to the community. Anyone who arrives here, the terminal is their first impression. It’s clean, but it’s also pretty old,” he said, adding that the renovations will help increase the seismic rating of the building.