Drive into the overnight parking lot at Deer Lake Regional Airport and it’s obvious there are many people travelling to and from the region continuously. On any given day, the number of empty places is scarce, even since the lot expansion, and travellers need a leprechaun’s luck getting anything close to the exit.
This, however, is a great problem to have.
The airport has become a transportation hub of the region and a stopping point for traffic spanning the entire Northern Peninsula, easterly into central Newfoundland and beyond.
On Friday, the airport revealed its summer passenger traffic and the numbers were phenomenal. More than 40,000 passengers went through the airport in both July and August. August’s total of 40,922 passengers surpassed the previous monthly record of 39,946.
Adding WestJet to the regular domestic and charter passenger services such as Air Canada, Air Canada Express, Canadian North, Provincial Airlines and Sunwing helped contribute to the record, but airlines will only offer flights to locations where people want to fly.
So where are the people going to and coming from?
It’s little secret that a migrant workforce contributes greatly to the number of flights. People leave every single community in western Newfoundland, drive to the airport, and fly to and from their Western Canadian destination ... while leaving their vehicles at the airport, of course.
However, that sustained traffic at the airport has been fairly consistent for several years now and doesn’t account for the spike in August and July. That’s where tourism plays into the equation.
Given the low tolerance — and sometimes irrational fear — many have for long boat rides, mixed with the frequent uncertainty of scheduling, many tourists are flying into the Deer Lake airport.
And while tourism may not have such a resounding effect on many of our economic generators in the region, airport travel is a completely different story. Seeing those kinds of numbers pass through during the summer months is an indication that visitors are coming or going — whether they have roots here or not. But the airport is not resting on status quo.
“We want to see tourism expand ... and one challenge is the (seasonality) of the market,” said airport manager Jamie Schwartz on Friday.
He’s right. Imagine seeing that kind of traffic in winter or the other shoulder seasons.
Tourism won’t fix the province’s economy, but it will complement existing industry and service. And for an entity such as the Deer Lake Regional Airport, it will continue to reap benefits for an already vital transportation hub.