The Northwest Regional Airport could end up matching the record monthly passenger traffic numbers recorded in 2014 during the economic boom associated with Rio Tinto’s modernization project.
Airport general manager Carman Hendry says passenger traffic at the airport has been climbing steadily compared to last year, a sign of increased interest in the economic prospects for the area.
September’s total of 21,251 people was up 11 per cent over the same month last year, while August’s 23,856 figure marked a 12 per cent jump compared to last year. July’s 22,343 total was seven per cent higher than July 2017.
For now Hendry said the airport has bumped its passenger projections up to 228,000 for its fiscal year beginning April 1, which would surpass totals of the past several years but is not as high as 2014 when the passenger count exceeded 250,000.
The record passenger numbers came during the previous economic development surge brought about by Rio Tinto’s aluminum smelter rebuild at Kitimat, the construction of BC Hydro’s Northwest Transmission Line and mining developments to the north.
He said apart from the increased traffic the airport has also been fielding inquiries about leasing and other commercial opportunities at the facility since last month’s LNG Canada Final Investment Decision.
“Phone calls. Lots of emails. There’s been a lot of interest,” said Hendry of the airport which markets itself as the central transportation hub for the region.
Just this summer the airport’s governing society purchased the large blue hangar located at the ‘T’entry intersection to the airport and has since leased it to Alberta-based ONEC, an engineering and construction company which works throughout Western Canada and which also has operations in the western U.S.
That building once housed maintenance operations for now-defunct regional carrier Hawkair.
In anticipation of continued growth, the airport has also expanded its long-term parking area which can now hold up to 800 vehicles, which doubled the previous parking capacity, noted Hendry.
As well, the rental car parking area which was located beside the short-term parking area at the main terminal building has been moved to a new location beside the terminal building’s cargo handling facility.
The former rental car parking area has just been converted to a 40-spot paid lot for people who want the convenience of parking as close as possible to the terminal building, said Hendry.
“You park, go in, check in, go to the restaurant and then call us at the airport office,” he said. “It’s $20 a day and you can park there for as long as you want.”
Along with increased economic activity, the airport is also exploring the idea of displaying local artwork inside the main terminal building.
To that end, it has been canvassing the members of its non-profit ownership society — the City of Terrace, the Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine, the Terrace and District Chamber of Commerce and the Kitimat Chamber of Commerce — for ideas, said Hendry.
The airport society does not have a budget to purchase artwork so a revolving series of art could be an option, he said.