Highway closures from wildfires help push Prince George airport to record year

The Prince George airport had its busiest year in 2017, driven by passengers trying to bypass wildfires and new flights to Edmonton and Dawson Creek.

Rise in passengers also attributed to new flights to Edmonton, Dawson Creek

Wildfires closed highways in B.C.'s Interior over the summer, driving up demand for flights to and from Prince George, located in the centre of the province. (CBC)

Prince George's airport had its busiest year in 2017, driven by passengers trying to bypass wildfires and new flights to Edmonton, Alta., and Dawson Creek, B.C.

The biggest increases came in July and August, which saw passenger traffic increase by 18 and 21 per cent over the same month in 2016, respectively.

They were also the months that saw B.C. encounter its worst wildfire season on record, with thousands of evacuees from the Cariboo region forced into Prince George because highways further south were closed for weeks at a time. 

Central Mountain Air's new direct flights to Edmonton and Dawson Creek were cited as factors in the record number of passengers travelling through the Prince George airport in 2017. (Central Mountain Air)

Prince George Airport Authority communications manager Lindsay Cotter said although the airport doesn't record reasons for travel, staff heard many passengers say they were flying in order to bypass the wildfires.

"We do spend a lot of time in the terminal talking to people," she said. "Definitely people were a bit nervous about the road closures and ... making other plans and getting off the road to avoid blocks along the way."

However, Cotter noted that every month except January was busier than previous years, something she attributed to Central Mountain Air's strategy of making Prince George a regional hub for northern B.C. and Alberta.

The regional carrier added direct flights to both Edmonton and Dawson Creek in 2017, making a "great little network" of flights for people who want to save time by not traveling through Vancouver in order to reach other destinations in the region.

Overall, 499,125 passengers passed through the airport in 2017, an eight-per-cent jump over 2016.

Cotter said she expected further increases in March 2018,  when WestJet begins offering direct flights to Calgary.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story incorrectly said 49,125 passengers passed through the airport in 2017. In fact, the correct number is 499,125.
    Jan 16, 2018 10:32 AM PT