Prince Rupert Airport (YPR) will resume flights on June 22nd, with a 3:45 p.m. flight to Vancouver. COVID-19 shut down most airport operations in March 2020 and has left the local airport with huge financial loss due to the pandemic. The airport needs local users to survive, said Rick Leach airport manager.
“The aviation industry has obviously been hit extremely hard. Devastated is probably a good word,” Leach said. “The issue looking forward is what recovery is going to be like. There are a lot of experts who are predicting two to three years to get back to some of the normal traffic we used to see.”
Leach wants it to be faster for the local airport.
With ticket bookings through YPR approximately 60,000 per year, Leach said there is an additional 40 per cent or almost 56,000 ticket bookings that are made through Terrace Airport, which were being “poached” from YPR prior to COVID-19. With COVID-19 closing the local airport additional bookings went through Terrace. If made through P.R. the 56,000 bookings could boost the fiscal health of the airport to the tune of $7 million per year and potentially allow for more flights into the city.
Improvements and adjustments are being implemented to make the local airport more user friendly and attractive for passengers to use. For example, making passenger processing more efficient and streamlining the arrival processes to a 30 minute aircraft-off-boarding to arrival at the downtown depot, is a new benefit to travelers. It is imperative for the longevity of the airport that some, if not all of the bookings from Prince Rupert and people doing business in P.R. come back to Prince Rupert, Leach said.
“We are trying to communicate to people that we are now going to be the better option, especially if you look at the winter operations,” Leach said.
Air Canada will implement one flight per day to and from the single destination airport as an introduction back into operations during COVID-19.
YPR has some unique challenges, Leach said. Terrace is just two hours down the road, they have a larger flight schedule being closer to the Kitimat LNG project and also generate passengers from Smithers. Ticket sales are a little cheaper because of the greater lineup with a couple of airlines servicing flights. With Prince Rupert being an island airport the cost of the ferry is included in tickets booked through YPR.
However, in the long-run with the small cost difference of flying out of Prince Rupert compared to drive time, parking, airport wait times and weather conditions, Prince Rupert is making that up in changes to customers service and quicker processes.
“The airport is a vital link for commerce obviously and for customers, citizens, to have an airport that is close by that they can utilize. I think we have to really work to ensure that our folks in Prince Rupert are using our airport first,” Leach said.
Revenue losses for the island airport during the second fiscal quarter, from April to June, are in the runway of $600,000. For a small town airport whose revenue on a regular, annual basis is around $2 million, that is a huge hit caused by COVID-19.
To add to the decreased returns, Leach said substantial revenue has been lost due to Air Canada upgrading the aircraft that fly into P.R.
Up until about a year ago Air Canada used Dash 8s to fly to YPR. The upgrade decision affected Prince Rupert Airport by approximately $500,000 per year as the new Q-400s can complete a YPR to Vancouver trip without needing to refuel. Leach said it is a large problem for the airport.
“They are great for the environment and for Air Canada … but our fuel sales have dropped probably 90 per cent. That was our first hit last year in our revenue.”
Local residents should know that the Prince Rupert Airport is not a burden on tax payers dollars, but operates on profits from bookings through the individual location, said Leach. The airport is operated on user dollars and without users there are difficulties.
Leach said the YPR operation annually puts together a small profit of around $2 million that covers the costs of field upgrades and maintenance which can be be quite expensive for a small airport. With COVID-19, loss of passengers and revenues it is a struggle.
“We were able to fund these small projects and keep going. So, our concern now is that the ridership … will come back in the numbers that were there…” Leach said.
K-J Millar | Journalist
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