North Peace Airport tops 257,000 passengers in 2015

Passenger traffic at the North Peace Regional Airport set another record last year despite economic headwinds, officials say.

A new record of 257,295 passengers came through the airport in 2015, up from the 252,729 passengers seen in 2014.

"In the face of some economic headwinds, the region continues to grow therefore the airport traffic continues to grow," said Lee Lipton, director of air service and cargo development with Vantage Airport Group, which manages the airport on behalf of the North Peace Airport Society.

Traffic has doubled since 2011, when the airport saw 128,526 passengers, and has set successive records ever since.

The airport saw 144,164 passengers in 2012, and 186,104 passengers in 2013.

Despite tough times in energy and resource communities across Western Canada, the economy in Fort St. John and the North Peace remains relatively diverse, Lipton said.

"From an airport perspective, that creates more resilience in the market," he said.

Indeed, at a time when WestJet recently reduced services in Prince George, Terrace, Fort McMurray, and other cities, Vantage continues to see commitments from the three carriers at the North Peace Airport to meet demand, Lipton added.

Monthly passenger traffic was stable in 2015, averaging roughly 21,400 fliers a month. March was the busiest month of the year, seeing 23,110 fliers, according to numbers provided by Vantage.

Meanwhile, the airport continues to develop a capital plan to meet its growing needs, said Rebecca Catley, Vantage's communications and marketing director.

The airport marked a milestone last year as it moved to add on-site firefighting services. Two Oshkosh Striker fire trucks are slated to arrive this year, Catley said.

Updating the terminal's washrooms was the biggest capital project on the books last year.

The airport is also looking to address the lack of amenities and concessions post-security screening.

"That's what we're hearing loud and clear from passengers," Catley said.

As for 2016, Lipton said it's too early to tell if the airport would see another record year.

"There's enough economic uncertainty generally, certainly in the country and in Western Canada, that we're not entirely sure," he said.

"The fundamentals in Fort St. John remain strong and so the economy has not developed really a dependence on a singular (industry)."

As for whether any new airlines would soon land Fort St. John, Lipton couldn't say, but he did note that the city continues to be part of the conversations Vantage has with airlines.

"It makes sense for some carriers than others, but we're always looking for more opportunities," he said.

Air Canada, Central Mountain Air, and WestJet all fly out of the airport.

According to a economic impact study released last fall, the airport supported 302 jobs, and generated $18 million in annual income for local households. It also contributed $8.2-million to federal, provincial, and municipal coffers, and added a total of $24-million to the country's gross domestic product.

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