The Nanaimo Airport officially unveiled its $14.2-million expanded terminal building on Friday afternoon.
The 14,000-square foot expansion includes a new departure lounge capable of seating more than 300 passengers, a new dedicated security area that can screen 1,000 people per hour, and improvements to the baggage area.
Mike Hooper, airport president and chief executive officer, told a crowd of dignitaries during a ceremony that the expanded terminal opens two months ahead of schedule and $100,000 under budget.
“We’re a little early for the spring 2020 when we thought it would be finished,” he said, later calling it a great day.
A number of local politicians were also on hand for the event including Paul Manly, Nanaimo-Ladysmith MP, who recalled flying through the airport with his father during the 1980s.
“I remember flying to Ottawa and if we wanted to get a Nanaimo connection it was a four-seater Cessna. So, that was back in the 1980s and this airport wasn’t much at all for passenger travel…” he said. “I’ve watched this airport grow and it is a really important piece for economic development.”
Sheila Malcolmson, Nanaimo MLA, said the airport has become a “real point of pride” for the city and the region.
Designed by Checkwitch Poiron Architects and Mcfarlane Biggar Architects and Designers, the new building, which largely encompasses the departure lounge, has high ceilings, modern finishings, and floor-to-ceiling glass windows that give passengers unparalleled views of the airport and surrounding areas.
There are also large television screens, comfortable new seating, tables with device chargers and a large washroom facility included in the new departure lounge. Wireless internet is now available to passengers throughout the airport.
Speaking to the News Bulletin afterwards, Hooper, who will be retiring in June, said it’s great to see the new terminal finally open to passengers.
“I love it,” he said. “We’re delighted to be able to offer a better service to the surrounding community.”
The expanded terminal is just the first phase of a 20-year, $55-million expansion plan for the airport that includes a larger terminal, jet stands, additional parking, baggage area improvements, shops and restaurants and redevelopment of surrounding land.
“This was a $14.2-million dollar expansion but it is part of a $55-million terminal development and then we’ve got a 20-year plan for our land development and route development,” Hooper said. “We’re right at the bottom of huge growth and this expansion lays the groundwork for future growth.”
With the expansion of the airport comes the increased potential for new routes, according to Hooper. Each year the airport attends what is known as a routes conference in an effort to scope out potential new routes and airlines, he said.
“It brings all the airports and all the air carriers from South America and North America together in one place for four days and there are about 800 to 900 people in attendance,” he said. “They set up these huge tables, rooms, with maybe 200 people and you speed date for 15 minutes with an air carrier.”
Flights to common sun destinations such as Hawaii, California, Nevada, Mexico and the Caribbean are of particular interest to the airport, which is also keen to restore service to Edmonton.
“Every year we put Edmonton on the table,” Hooper said. “In preparation for the routes conference we go through a whole analytical process and we know fully that Edmonton is a high priority for the community.”
WestJet once operated flights to the Alberta capital but cancelled them in 2014. Hooper believes it is only a matter of time before the route returns.
“When we had it we had over 80-85 per cent load factors. WestJet had to move their aircraft based on other needs, so it wasn’t about whether Nanaimo was doing good,” he said. “I can guarantee that will come back, I just can’t tell you when.”
Hooper said he cannot provide specific details about which airlines the airport has had discussions with due to confidentiality reasons, but said he has had inquires from airlines farther away that have caught him off-guard.
“We have a number of air carriers come to us and ask to work through the Nanaimo Airport and we have signed off on that for scheduled services,” he said. “We’ve never had any that we wouldn’t sign off on, but we’ve had some that surprised me that they even came to us.”
Hooper said he doesn’t think it will be much longer before the Nanaimo-Toronto non-stop flight becomes year-round.
“It also won’t be that long before we see sun destinations out of Nanaimo,” he added.
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