The Nanaimo Airport’s board of directors breaks ground on the new $15-million expansion of the terminal building on Wednesday afternoon. (Mike Gregory Photo)

UPDATED: Nanaimo Airport breaks ground on $15-million terminal expansion

The first shovels of dirt were turned over on Tuesday afternoon as the Nanaimo Airport broke ground on a $15-million terminal expansion project that’s expected to last 24 months and more than double the size of the existing building.

YCD has set records for passenger volume for eight consecutive years, with over 390,000 people expected to pass through its gates by the end of 2018.

The expansion will add another 14,000 square feet and increase the terminal building’s total size by nearly 60 per cent.

“As the Central Island’s gateway to the world, we know hundreds of thousand of people rely on us for safe, convenient and comfortable travel,” said Airport CEO and president Mike Hooper, adding that “by expanding we’ll be better able to meet the needs of our region today and for the next generations.”

Passengers will benefit from a larger departure lounge which will have close to 320 seats, also more than double the current number. There will also be a new retail-food outlet and security screening area.

Hooper noted that steps are being taken to ensure that passengers are looked after as the airport prepares for the build.

“The first thing we’re going to do is double the size of security so we’re going to instantly increase the flow of people going through from 100 people and hour to 200 people an hour,” he said.

“The next phase that you’ll see in the next three months is a new boarding lounge so we’re going to have that pre-built before we build the final boarding lounge. We’re looking after our customer service and ensuring they have a high level of experience as we do the build.”

Planning for the terminal expansion project started several years back but no one could have predicted the pace at which YCD has boomed since that time.

“We’ve got a fiscally responsible board and we weren’t going to charge into breaking ground before we really needed it, and now we do really need it,” said Nanaimo Airport board chair Lucie Gosselin.

The investment project is also seen as a partnership between the Nanaimo Airport Commission and the federal and provincial governments. Both levels of government contributed $2.48 million towards the infrastructure project.

With both Air Canada and WestJet adding new flights to Nanaimo within the last year, and passenger volumes projected to increase another 30 per cent over the next four years, Gosselin is optimistic about the future of the airport.

“We still have room to grow,” she said, noting that if you look at market share the airport should have closer to half a million customers.

“It’s just a matter of making sure those passengers are looked after when they get here and the airlines are providing the flights that they need. So it’s a whole bunch of parts that make that happen.”

The bright future of the airport, and Ladysmith’s proximity as the closest municipality only five minutes down the road, could also spell huge opportunities for the town to promote economic development.

Mayor Aaron Stone said the town’s proximity is “a big part of our economic development story, and our advantage.”

“I feel like we’re ideally suited to be the best community to invest in if you want to tie part of your business to the airport,” he said.

“If you’re a small distributor on Vancouver Island, the light industrial lands in Ladysmith are the best place to be. They’re the closest to transport infrastructure, not only here but at the Duke Point ferry terminal, and you combine those things and it gives you an advantage because we have lower land values and a stable local government that’s welcoming to investment.”

With the soon-to-be-completed Microtel Inn & Suites By Wyndham at Oyster Bay, the town will also have the closest accommodations for travellers.

“Having that overnight infrastructure, and when we’re looking to move forward on the waterfront and then you look at the reinvestment in the Travellers Hotel downtown, all of those pieces together when you tie in the airport makes our tourism prospects looks like we’re really poised to do something special,” Stone said.

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Nanaimo Airport board chair Lucie Gosselin, Ladysmith Mayor Aaron Stone, Nanaimo Mayor Bill McKay and Airport CEO and president Mike Hooper at Tuesday’s announcement. (Mike Gregory Photo)

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