It was a great year for passenger numbers at the Fort St. John airport in 2022.
Officials anticipated seeing just under 183,000 passengers come through the terminal last year but instead welcomed a grand total of 204,390.
“We're very pleased with the results of 2022 and looking forward to having more positive results in 2023, while, with the foresight of Site C completing, proactively looking at alternative traffic drivers for the airport,” said managing director Carolyn Turner.
Commercial traffic last year was at about 73% of a record 278,720 passengers in 2019. Turner attributed the relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions and a pent up desire to travel from leisure travellers for lifting the airport above expectations.
“People were itching to get out and travel,” said Turner. “With restrictions being lifted, not just on the masks, but also with travel to the U.S. relaxing, I think it opened up more of a desire for people to use our airport, get to those connecting hubs, and get elsewhere within the world.”
Turner expects the post-pandemic recovery to continue this year, anticipating passenger counts to reach 85% of 2019 levels.
Further out, she says the airport needs to consider the completion of the Site C dam and the effect that will have on traffic levels as many workers fly commercial.
“We’re doing what we can to connect in with industries, particularly on the oil and gas side of things as they continue to use our services. When Site C is done, they're still going to be using the airport,” she said.
“We're going to be working very closely over the next six months to a year to see how we can best support the oil and gas industry so that we can see the numbers continue to climb at the airport.”
Turner anticipates Air Canada, which dropped one flight a day to Vancouver in December, to resume that flight after the end of April. The airport is continuing to meet with airlines to discuss route developments and changes to meet the need of business and personal travellers, she said.
“We show the numbers of where people are going after they leave this airport when they're connecting into Vancouver. When we we present those numbers, what we try and do is advocate and convince the airlines to pick up routes where we see people going,” said Turner.
“One of the ones that I would love to see is an Edmonton connection again," she added. "We are missing that but certainly getting the return of that third flight from Air Canada each day to Vancouver, and then any other services that WestJet can provide us into Calgary.”
Charter traffic was down at the airport last year, from about 30,000 passengers in 2021 to around 19,000.
Carousel and payment improvements
While passengers won’t see major capital upgrades like the recent rebuild of runway 03/21 this year, Turner says two projects are planned that should be very pleasing for patrons.
One is replacing the baggage carousel systems at both the departure and arrivals gates. The other is a revamp of the parking lot payment system, which Turner says has been a frustration for patrons.
“Definitely things that we hope to increase customer satisfaction and the travel experience for passengers,” she said.
Turner began her role at YXJ in September of last year, bringing with her a career in aviation with the Royal Canadian Air Cadets.
Since then, she earned pilot licenses to fly gliders, fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. She's also no stranger to the north having worked in the Air Operations section of the Yukon Government’s Wildland Fire Management brigade.
Turner says she’s happy to now be a resident of Fort St. John and the North Peace.
“Bringing experience from other airports and being in the aviation industry for about 25 years is certainly helping me. I do enjoy the north, so Fort St. John has been a good place to settle in,” she said.
That being said, “I’m definitely looking forward to the summer months,” Turner added.
“I’m more of an outdoors person in the summer months than the winter months, so I'm looking forward to exploring the the city itself and the vicinity from that perspective.”