It’s also a 51.4 per cent increase over 2012 traffic, continuing the trend of more then 45 per cent growth since a third airline started servicing the North Peace.
“A little competition is always a good thing,” says North Peace Airport Services Director Moira Green.
July was the first full month that WestJet flew to and from FortSt. John, and traffic increased 45 per cent that month, followed by 53 per cent in August and 55 per cent in September. It’s projected that by the end of the year, 185,000 people will have passed through the airport. If service has stayed the same, those numbers would likely be closer to 144,000.
Green says she expects to see this kind of “enormous” growth until next June.
“Then we should level off to what we’ll call economic development growth,” she explains. “We feel that this is market share that we’re pulling back from other communities and from other airports and from people who chose to drive rather than fly because of costs.”
Green also credits a commitment from all of the airport’s carriers, which also include Air Canada and Central Mountain Air, as increasing the number of people choosing to fly YXJ. If all goes as expected, the airport could be looking at traffic of 220,000 in 2014.
“Our job for 2014 is to encourage these air carriers to provide additional routes that are relevant for us,” adds Green, noting that improving times to have flights to Calgary and back in a day, as well as smaller runs like to Prince George and Kamloops.
In order to sustain that kind of growth, the North Peace Airport is currently at the tail end of the first phase of massive upgrades, including an expanded parking lot and new pay system. The number of parking stalls has increased from 250 to 348, and rental spaces are up to 122 from 63.
The new pay parking system will have drivers get a ticket when they enter the parking area, keep that ticket during their travels, and enter it into a machine when they return in order to have the length of their stay calculated. It eliminates the need for an employee to manually check each vehicle, although a security patrol will remain.
It’s hoped the parking lot will be finished and the new system functioning by next Friday, and everything will have power by tomorrow.
“B.C. Hydro has committed to our contractor that they will be here by the end of this week to make sure that there’s power to the street lights and the plug-ins in the north lot,” says Green.
Once that’s all in play, there will be further changes to the traffic pattern in front of the terminal, as well as some short-term parking in the closest lot that will be free for the first hour.