Friday, May 28, 2021

Funding helps, but what YPR needs is more flights, more passengers

Air travellers will be making their way to the Prince Rupert
Shuttle station late next month as Air Canada Service
returns to the North Coast though with a light schedule to begin

We're less than a month away from a return to service for Prince Rupert's Aviation gateway of YPR to points south, with Air Canada set to resume its service to and from Prince Rupert on June 23rd.

The return of the air carrier one step back towards providing revenue to the Prince Rupert Airport Authority which has seen some significant challenges through this year after having suffered its first financial hit last year when air service was suspended.

The resumption of air travel from Digby Island however will be a gradual one with the airline providing for a rather reduced schedule from the past, limited to one flight a day three times a week, with more consistent service not expected until August it would appear.

Adding to the challenges for local residents looking to fly out of their own hometown, Air Canada has been making changes on the fly in recent weeks. 

With a number of rescheduled flights, leaving travellers to make their own changes to their itineraries with such things as hotel bookings and rental cars, something that makes of a frustrating inconvenience, which could deliver a negative a spin off impact on YPR.

The decision making of Air Canada is beyond the control of YPR officials of course, but if the airline is looking to help kick start a return to service here, they are making it a process that could have the exact opposite effect.

While the Prince Rupert flight schedule still at times seems much in the air, the Terrace flight listings continue to show a fairly diverse opportunity for travel, with three airlines and a range of flight options available. 

For North Coast travellers certainty and volume of flights may trump local convenience, a situation that will not assist YPR in its quest to rebuild its footprint in aviation in the province.

Such has been the flow of traffic to the Terrace-Kitimat airport that a parking lot expansion was required, with more additions to the parking protocol now in place to welcome those making the trip from out of town.

For YPR, the year has been one of waiting for the tide to turn on COVID, the airport receiving funding from a range of sources whether it be Federal or Provincial, with the City of Prince Rupert for the most part making use of its COVID restart funding from the Province to put towards the airport situation.

The City also recently extended the terms of repayment for the Airport for the outstanding loan on renovations from a few years ago.

However, if the airport hopes to return to a more solid and fluid form of financial progress, the only way forward is through the use of the airport for flight operations and they could use a bit more help from Air Canada on that.

With the airline providing for a reliable and more frequent service that makes YPR an attractive option for Rupertites compared to the Terrace Airport just over an hours drive east.

Prince Rupert Council could have a role towards spurring on some increased usage, taking the initiative to continue to push for better service, recruiting some regional and federal assets in the area in the MLA and MP to put some gentle persuasion on the airline to step up its efforts in the city.

As well, Council may wish to invite Paul Venditelli their own Manager of Transportation and Economic Development to provide a report for the public on the current status of the airport and what efforts that they have taken to perhaps try to gain some additional flight services out of Digby Island.

While West Jet has long avoided even taking note of the airport it seems, there are other options to try to entice to the North Coast.  

Central Mountain Air has been expanding their flight roster in recent months as has Pacific Coastal Airlines, and while their aircraft aren't quite the same in capacity as Air Canada and West Jet, they at least could be an answer towards more flight movements in and out of the city.

If they and West Jet have been approached in the past, the City should outline for residents what it is exactly that is holding back an expansion of aviation options from YPR.

After more than a year of challenges for the airport residents of the community are probably due a full report from the City on the situation currently facing the airport and what, if anything can be done to help improve the prospects for service to the community.

Otherwise, Rupertites will probably continue to make the journey east and the Terrace airport may have to put an other BC Bid out for tender to expand its parking lot once again.

For more notes on aviation in the Northwest see our archive page here.

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