The number of passengers passing through the Northwest Regional Airport during the month of January has almost doubled over the last two years.
Figures provided by the airport put the number of passengers in January this year at 21,871, 10 per cent more than January 2019’s count of 19,900 passengers, and nearly 42 per cent more than January 2018’s count 15,456 passengers.
“And when you look at 2019, we were 22 per cent up over 2018,” says airport general manager Carman Hendry of the total number of passengers through the airport in 2019 of 293,895 passengers compared to 2018’s total of 240,253.
“LNG Canada is one of the main reasons for the increase,” says Hendry, referring to the number of workers flying into Terrace on their way to Kitimat to work on the first phase of the massive natural gas liquefaction project currently underway in Kitimat.
The airport last saw substantial passenger numbers in the middle of the last decade during the peak of Rio Tinto’s rebuild of its Kitimat aluminum smelter and B.C. Hydro’s construction of the Northwest Transmission Line which runs north of Terrace.
Hendry’s predicting continued growth this year as construction of the LNG Canada project ramps up. The first phase of its worker camp on the project site is scheduled to open this spring, housing more than 1,000 people who, for the most part, will be flying in and out on shift rotations.
In addition to scheduled flights using the airport’s main terminal, the large blue hangar adjacent to the terminal has now been converted into a charter facility to handle workers and others connected to the LNG Canada project.
That activity began last fall, with one charter in and out each week, rising to three. As construction activity and the workforce increases, the number will increase to between nine and 12 flights a week, said Hendry.
“With the size of aircraft, that could be 140 passengers each time,” said Hendry of flights originating on the lower mainland and in Alberta.
The hangar facility is owned by the Northwest Regional Airport and leased to Alberta-based ONEC, a major engineering, construction and logistics company that then signed a business deal with the economic development arm of the Haisla Nation to form ONEC Logistics Kitamaat LP.
Last year the airport recorded 4,800 charter passengers, a number Hendry said will quickly climb this year as charter traffic connected to LNG Canada increases.
As the charters increase, Hendry anticipates a tempering of the scheduled flight passenger count.
“We don’t count charters in those [scheduled flight passenger] numbers,” he said.
The shift to the charter facility will also ease what has been an extremely busy main terminal hold room, he added.
“But we will continue to welcome those passengers should they wish,” Hendry said of LNG Canada-connected traffic.