Big things are happening at the Nanaimo Airport.
That was the message Nanaimo Airport Commission CEO MIke Hooper had to share with a Lake Cowichan Audience, Thursday, March 17, during a public meeting organized by the Cowichan Lake District Chamber of Commerce.
The airport currently serves 165,000 passengers per year, with flights to Vancouver, Victoria, Abbotsford, Comox, and (with a connection) Powell River.
As a result of a two-phase upgrade, Hooper said that he hopes to have airplanes flying out to the Pacific Northwest within six months, and Western Canada, including Calgary, within 18 months.
Phase one, which has already been completed, cost $16.4 million, and include a 1,600 foot extension to their runway to accommodate larger planes, high intensity lights, a new landing system, and other related things.
“We’ve done all the work we can on the runway,” Hooper said.
The airport has already seen improvements as a result of this work, the CEO said. The seven-year average for missed flights between February and November has been 60, though in 2010, it was cut down to only 10.
Phase two, currently being completed, involves terminal improvements, a new parking lot, a roundabout, and other such things, at a cost of $10.4 million. A third is from the Federal Government, a third is from the Provincial Government, while the remaining third has been raised through the Nanaimo Airport Commission.
One thing Hooper was particularly proud of in the second phase is the new wall of windows at the airport’s terminal.
“You can now sit there and watch the airplanes come in,” he said, adding that it now looks like a “real” terminal.
This past Christmas season, he said, the airport was full, with all parking lots, including the new one, over-full. So, more needs to be done.
“You have to try and meet that high demand during peak times,” he said.
This public meeting was Hooper’s latest of over 200 since 2007. As a non-profit organization, the Nanaimo Airport Commission is publicly funded, therefore making public consultation an important part of the process.
“We reach out on a regular basis,” he said. “Lake Cowichan is an integral part of the area we service. We want to offer reliable service to communities in our area.”
The fact that turnout to the March 17 public meeting was quite low can be viewed as a good thing, Hooper said.
“Quite often, when these are huge things, it’s a bad sign,” he said, adding that people tend to only show up when there’s something to complain about.
Although Hooper talked around answering the question of whether or not prices at the Nanaimo Airport are comparable to those in Victoria, he said that with increased usage they expect will come in the near future, they will be able to lower prices.