With Nanaimo Airport passenger numbers dropping significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic, a $720,000 lifeline from the B.C. government is being welcomed by the airport.
The B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure announced the relief funding for the terminal in Cassidy on Tuesday, March 30, and Dave Devana, Nanaimo Airport president and CEO, said the money will ensure business continues at YCD and other regional airports. Losses have been mounting for a year and the money will provide some relief, enabling people to remain employed, he said.
“The big thing that we’ve had is our passenger counts have been down 96 per cent and levelled off at about 70 per cent in the summer and now they’re still down 85 per cent due to the travel restrictions in trying to control the pandemic,” said Devana. “Right now our staffing levels are down through attrition, but it looks like, if the vaccination program goes ahead as expected, that operations are going to start turning around here in the late summer and we want to be ready for that.”
WestJet announced recently that it would again offer direct flights from Nanaimo to Edmonton, beginning in late June, something welcomed by Nanaimo Airport and Devana.
“It’s fantastic news,” said Devana. “Right now Air Canada is flying to Vancouver once or twice a day and WestJet’s flying once a day to Calgary. As the vaccination program rolls out, WestJet is seeing some merit in bringing a flight here from Edmonton twice a week, so for us that’s a game changer … they’re also going to bring back their flights to Vancouver and they’re going to expand their flights to Calgary in this upcoming summer season. Our lifeline is passengers and we’ll welcome them back when they’re ready to travel.”
Devana is also hoping an Air Canada flight to Toronto, returns this summer “if things go well,” as well as a flight to Calgary.
“If you go to book a flight, you could book a flight to Toronto starting in early July, but it’s all dependent on demand and whether the traveller’s restrictions have been lifted,” said Devana.
Sheila Malcolmson, Nanaimo MLA, said in a press release said the funding is an investment to help the airport “build back stronger as we make our way out of the pandemic.”
Doug Routley, Nanaimo-North Cowichan MLA, said in the release that “hope is on the horizon” with COVID-19 immunizations happening, “but we know it will be some time before people are moving around at pre-pandemic levels. This funding will help bridge the gap so the Nanaimo Airport can cover costs and plan for the return of travellers.”
The $720,000 will support operations between April 1 and March 31, 2022, the province said.