The Comox Valley Airport is hoping for smooth skies for the months ahead following an increase in passenger traffic over the holidays but a dropoff during the first month of the new year.
Mike Atkins, the CEO for YQQ said passenger numbers for 2021 were at about 65 per cent of pre-pandemic numbers to close out the year. A twist for the airport came on Dec. 15 when Canadians were advised to avoid non-essential travel outside of Canada due to the risk of the Omicron variant.
“Since the New Year, we’ve seen a drop off in numbers. People who already had travel plans pushed on for Christmas, but into January, it has been quite slow,” noted Atkins.
While many airports across the country delayed or cancelled flights due to significant winter weather or staffing issues, Atkins said flight ran smoothly throughout the holidays season, thanks to the “incredible” assistance from 19 Wing Comox who kept the runways clear through multiple snow events.
“Regardless of (the weather), the airport never shut down. We only lost one flight due to a challenge with a de-icing truck. We did a lot of shoveling and salting on the aprons and there haven’t been any real weather issues.”
With ultra-low-cost carrier Flair Airlines set to begin operations out of Comox on March 29 and WestJet’s ULC Swoop Airlines set to begin on June 9, Atkins explained recent renovations to the south end of the terminal building should be complete by the end of March.
Once completed, the terminal will have a new security area and expanded hold room, something he says is even more crucial as passengers maintain social distancing regulations.
In late 2021, the Comox Valley Airport board of directors asked Comox council for support to appeal to the federal government to reinstate the airport’s international designation, in order to resume direct seasonal WestJet flight from Comox to Puerto Vallarta.
Atkins said the decision has been delayed and added other airports in the province such as Victoria and Kelowna have received their international designation.
“It’s frustrating (for travellers) as they’ve had their flights rebooked through Calgary.”
Overall, he said delays in recovery are taking longer than anticipated but estimates it will take about two years to increase passenger numbers to what they were pre-pandemic. With the Comox Valley as a preferred summer destination domestically, Atkins said he is hopeful by the summer YQQ will be busy again with a tourism boom.
“With the arrival of Flair and Swoop and summer weather, it’s exciting to see what will happen in our market.”