Record passenger numbers at the Prince George Airport have turned into new flights at YXS by two of their three major air carriers.
The Prince George Airport Authority announced Wednesday that Air Canada Jazz has added extra flights on Saturdays and Sundays, and regional independent company Central Mountain Air has added new Thursday and Friday flights to its Prince George-Fort St. John route.
Air Canada spokeswoman Angela Mah said "we review our flights on a regular basis to ensure that we have the right capacity (either the number of flights or size of aircraft) to meet the demand on all markets, and determined that we could support the additional flights between Prince George and Vancouver due to commercial demand."
These moves by the airlines are exciting for the Prince George Airport Authority (PGAA) because they do not subtract services from elsewhere in their Prince George time slots.
"The load factors are over 80 per cent, here, and if there is a pipeline hearing or a Ritchie Brothers auction, you can't get a seat all week long. So the carriers are doing well, they have managed their capacity really tightly," said PGAA president and CEO John Gibson. "Our business is totally driven by the economy, and most of it right now is good news. We see a lot of traffic coming in for the pipeline hearings, the Mount Milligan mine, engineers coming in for various projects in the north. The economy is just percolating, that is why we are doing so well."
The results are so strong that the cancellation of an entire direct flight service to Las Vegas could not bump YXS's numbers off its record pace this year. Prince George is about to touch down on the best year for air passengers in its history.
"Our record is 417,200 set in 2008, but it looks like we will get to 420,000 or more this year," Gibson said. "What is significant is our October numbers and what they mean overall. We are two per cent up, this October over last, and we didn't have those Vegas flights in the mix like we did last year, so we are not only up but we offset the loss of those Vegas passengers and still came out ahead."
Adding positive glow to the current trends are the negotiations behind the scenes to revive the semi-regular Las Vegas direct flights, WestJet and Air Canada are both making moves to add efficient new planes to their fleet perhaps allowing for better regional scheduling. There are also negotiations for flight loops with Edmonton and/or Calgary, and perhaps even some direct summertime flights to Europe. Europe is an even higher possibility, said Gibson, than the public discussions about linking to China for tourism air packages.
"There is some developmental work being done with China but it all links to Vancouver. We did talk to some Chinese carriers about operating summer tours through here, because they can loop to the Rockies and down to Vancouver, with one hour less flying time each way using our airport, but it has still been a hard sell. It is only a theoretical proposition right now, but if a tour operator can save two hours of flight time that is about $30,000 saved on the aircraft component of the tour alone. And with our Barkerville product just down the road, there is some Chinese interest there for sure."