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Passenger traffic at the North Peace Regional Airport jumped six per cent to a new record in 2018.

The airport saw 268,240 passengers through its terminal last year, up from 252,898 passengers in 2017.

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Gord Duke, the airport’s managing director, says the growth was fuelled by the region's busy economy and optimism, bringing a rise in business and corporate travel, followed by the leisure sector.

"In behind that business travel, you get the family that maybe weren't going to go on that all-inclusive to Mexico, but because of the optimism driven by the energy sector and the economic sector they may pull the trigger on that trip," Duke said.

The 2018 numbers beat the airport's previous high of 257,295 passengers in 2015. Traffic slumped to around 240,000 in 2016 due to the economic downturn, but has been rebounding ever since, up 11% over the last two years.

Passenger counts are for commercial flights only, and doesn't include industry charter activity. Those numbers aren't captured through the airport's terminal, and charter counts have yet to be reported. However, Duke conservatively estimated the airport saw around 12,000 charter passengers last year, an increase from 2017.

Commercial traffic for 2018 was buoyed in part by WestJet's expanded service to Vancouver through last summer, and which ended in the fall. The airline also rolled out expanded service to Calgary in spring 2018 as a seasonal offering, but has continued the service through the winter, Duke said.

Over the last year, the airport has added food and beverage service in its holding room, first with Whole Wheat & Honey, and now through Cool Beans Cafe.

"We're very pleased with that," Duke said.

"I'm pretty proud of the team here for the work they've done on the frontline to keep the airport operational through last winter, which was pretty difficult, and this winter through the freezing rain. They've done a bang up job."

Optimism is expected to continue with the region's economic activity, and the airport is forecasting modest growth of 3% for 2019, Duke said.

"We've had a pretty good year in 2018, and the direct benefits from LNG and that activity will likely start to come online later in 2019, from an airport perspective," Duke said.

"It's not an exact science, but we try to budget without going too far off what our airline partners are putting in their schedules."

The airport has room to spare to handle more passenger growth before it needs to expand its footprint, Duke said.

"We would want to make sure we have growth in place before spending those kind of dollars to expand the facility," he said. "With the footprint we have, we can find operational efficiencies to carry on through a few more years of growth."

The airport is finalizing plans for runway rehabilitation work set for construction in 2020. 

The Vantage Airport Group manages and operates the airport on behalf of the North Peace Airport Society.

Passenger numbers

2011 - 128,526

2012 - 144,164

2013 - 186,104

2014 - 252,729

2015 - 257,295

2016 - 240,000

2017 - 252,898

2018 - 268,240 

Email Managing Editor Matt Preprost at editor@ahnfsj.ca.

@ Copyright Pipeline News North

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