Nanaimo Airport is still working to get back to its pre-pandemic passenger volumes, but is predicting another year of steady growth.
The airport reported about 340,000 passengers in 2022, up from 193,000 in 2021 and 174,000 in 2020, but still well short of the record 491,000 passengers who flew through Nanaimo-Ladysmith in 2019.
Dave Devana, the airport’s CEO and president, updated Town of Ladysmith council about the airport’s recent projects and future plans at a meeting Jan. 24 at the Ladysmith Seniors Centre.
He said the expanded terminal – which officially opened in March 2020 – is just one of a few recent improvements at the airport.
“I don’t know if you’ve been in there, but it’s absolutely spectacular, very comfortable,” he said. “The only problem is, for its whole first year … it was empty all the time.”
Devana said while passenger volumes were down the past two years, the airport made a conscious decision to try to use the down time to make important upgrades, including $3.8 million for concrete infill panels to improve and expand airplane parking around the terminal building and $7.5 million to resurface the runway and taxiway.
Some short-term projects include grooving of the runway surface and designing an improved lighting system, and some longer-term goals are redevelopment of airport lands along the Trans-Canada Highway, including moving the main entrance further south and creating two distinct commercial areas at either end of the parking lots.
“We talk about airport-related, airport-dependent-type businesses,” Devana said. “If you go to any airport you can find a convenience store, you can find a liquor store, you can find a tourism agency; we’re interested in a cultural-type centre. We see it supporting the highway commercial activities but also supporting the airport. There is a wide variety of things we could do.”
Lodging, however, isn’t likely to be one of the first businesses to go on the airport lands. Devana said passenger numbers don’t support a hotel there right now, and suggested it would also compete with the nearby hotel on Stz’uminus reserve land.
Right now, Nanaimo Airport connects with Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton, with seasonal flights to and from Toronto. Devana said the airport would like to add links to Kelowna, Prince George, Vancouver Airport’s south terminal, and Abbotsford.
The goal for 2023 is 440,000 passengers and a full recovery in 2024, according to a press release from the airport.
“I have a feeling that in the next couple of years you’ll return to Nanaimo Airport’s recent history of exceeding the targets and not having to modify them downwards,” said Ladysmith Mayor Aaron Stone.
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