Charlottetown Airport working to keep passengers from flying out of other airports
'As a small airport we're competing with a major hub like Halifax'
About one quarter of people travelling to or from P.E.I. did not use the Charlottetown Airport last year.
Instead, about 120,000 travellers opted to use the airports in Halifax or Moncton, according to the Charlottetown Airport Authority's annual report, presented Tuesday evening.
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"There's no question that leakage to other airports in the region happens. It happens, a lot of airports across the country face it in one form or another . As a small airport we're competing with a major hub like Halifax who has 10 times the passenger levels that we do," said Charlottetown Airport Authority CEO Doug Newson.
"It's a lot easier for them to go after different flight options and so there's certainly more cost-competitive options for people."
Newson said the Charlottetown Airport is working to create better airfare prices by working with airlines to increase flight options, and that is improving usage.
"As we do that then we will have more people using our services and our facilities," said Newson.
"We've seen that over the last couple of years, as that 74 per cent has actually gotten better since the last time we did the study."
Newson said the biggest challenge is the leisure customer travelling south, so the airport is working on growing flight options in the off-season and winter as well. The airport keeps about 90 per cent of the traffic in summer.
"We work closely with lots of organizations like Meetings and Conventions P.E.I., Tourism PEI and others to work on the inbound market," he said.
"We do know that people do want to come here in the summer time, and rather than flying into another airport or driving, we believe that if we have the capacity and the seat options that people do want to fly directly into this airport."
Newson said there is more capacity this summer with more seats on a larger jet servicing a noon Toronto flight with Air Canada Rouge along with an a new overnight flight to Montreal. The airport is also continuing its "Just Go" campaign, where people share pictures of where they've travelled flying out of the Charlottetown Airport.
Airport predicting strong year
This year to date usage at the airport is down two per cent compared to last year, but Newson said the airport is projecting an overall increase for 2017.
"We knew that was going to be the case. WestJet made some changes to their winter schedule year over year," he said.
"But we're already starting to see April was up five per cent. We know May, June, July, all the way through the summer will be up, so we are forecasting traffic to be up somewhere around two to three per cent for the year."
Future of airport
The airport authority estimates it will need about $30 million in upgrades over the next five years. That includes the $22 million runway upgrade project. The airport has the money for the first part of the project, but where it will get funds for future work is still up in the air as the airport can't apply for some federal infrastructure funding as it's on federal land.
He said discussions continue with Ottawa and the airport hopes there is some resolution that doesn't result in increased costs for users.
"We are hoping that a change or a new program will come about before we get into our 2018 runway rehabilitation program," he said.
Some of the other work that needs to be done includes safety-related projects, said Newson. Future projects include maintaining buildings, equipment, and snow-clearing equipment, and revisiting terminal capacity. Five years ago the terminal was renovated and expanded, but with growth in the past couple of years and projected increased traffic the terminal is again at its maximum capacity.