Pandemic cut Fort St. John airport traffic by more than half

Passenger counts through the North Peace Regional Airport dropped last year to levels not seen in a decade due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The airport saw 122,368 passengers on commercial flights come through the terminal in 2020, down more than half from a record 278,720 passengers in 2019.

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“We were right about where we thought we would be,” said airport director Mike Karsseboom, noting the airport saw its numbers drop significantly less than others around the country.

Most of last year's passengers, an estimated 95%, were travelling for business, while leisure travel plummeted. The figures do not include chartered flights.

A modest recovery is forecast for 2021, rebounding to 160,000 passengers. Traffic is expected to stay slow through the first half of the year, and grow in the second half of the year.

“The standard rules of forecasting have been thrown out the window,” Karsseboom said. “We’re trying to do our best to predict when the vaccines arrive, when people start to have more confidence in travel, when restrictions will start to be lifted.”

"Once the vaccine starts to roll out and take effect, and there's more confidence in air travel, we’re hoping to see a reasonable rebound," he said.

Passenger numbers

  • 2020 - 122,368

  • 2019 - 278,720

  • 2018 - 268,240

  • 2017 - 252,898

  • 2016 - 240,000

  • 2015 - 257,295

  • 2014 - 252,729

  • 2013 - 186,104

  • 2012 - 144,164

  • 2011 - 128,526  

Karsseboom predicts it will take regional airports like North Peace up to two and a half years to recover to pre-pandemic levels — and up to five years for major airports.

The airport has been taking advantage of the federal government’s wage subsidy program and is waiting for more details about programs identified in its fall economic statement.

“We’ll take advantage where we can,” Karsseboom said.

The airport meanwhile is awaiting two key decisions, including the results of a NAV Canada review of its services, which could see overnight services eliminated.

The airport also expects a decision this spring on federal funding to support runway upgrades planned for this summer.

Email Managing Editor Matt Preprost at editor@ahnfsj.ca.

© Copyright Alaska Highway News

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