Traffic is returning to the Comox Valley Airport, albeit a bit slowly.
During a presentation to the Comox Valley Regional District board at the Aug. 24 meeting, airport chief executive officer Mike Atkins provided an update on what is happening.
The number of passengers at the terminal is still well below the numbers from 2018 and 2019, but they are starting to recover from the massive drop-off connected to COVID-19 starting in 2020. The CEO noted that even between June and July, numbers were beginning to show increases, growing from 7,000 passengers in June to about 18,000 the following month. Seat capacity is increasing over that from 2020, which saw an 88.3 per cent drop from 2019. It has increased 105 per cent over last year but is still down over 2019.
“Routes and frequencies are starting to come back,” he added.
Still, the numbers are lower than normal, with 66,000 passing through the terminal during the last fiscal year compared with about 400,000 annually before the pandemic.
He said the next few years for the industry are still unclear and pointed to questions such as whether online Zoom meetings would replace in-person business meetings.
“The crystal ball is broken,” he said. “It’s very hard to look into the future.”
Atkins did not have statistics in response to a question from the board about the number of business travellers, but he said anecdotally that many of the people flying in and out do seem to be business customers. He linked the airport to the overall economic development of the region.
“Our vision is to be the aviation gateway to the north Island,” he said.
The drop-off last year meant an operating loss, but the airport was helped because of reduced costs by its being on military base land. As well, the airport was augmented with senior government funding to help the facility and keep staff employed.
One of the challenges Atkins cited was the uncertainty about the partners for tourism and economic development now that the tourism centre operation has been transferred from the Comox Valley Economic Development Society to the regional district. He expressed concerns about the marketing for the facility.
“It’s difficult for us to determine who to work with,” he said.
Another issue will be finding more Comox Valley Airport Commission board members as the local government representatives, he added.
In response to a question from the CVRD board, Atkins also said the facility is looking at its carbon footprint, saying they would be seeking professional advice about a carbon audit, but he added they have been looking for other changes to make such as switching to LED lights in the terminal to reduce energy demands. He also said they have been making progress toward acquiring land for more parking.
Atkins started the job in January, and CVAC board chair Martin Crilly commended him for the work he has been doing since starting.
“We were very fortunate to attract a senior executive of Mike’s calibre,” he told the CVRD board. “He’s been doing a great job.”