In 1975 the Deer Lake Regional Airport saw about 85,000 in passenger traffic. Last year it was 315,000 and indications are that the numbers could go up even further for 2014.
That was one of the messages airport CEO Jamie Schwartz brought to the Deer Lake Chamber of Commerce annual general meeting Wednesday night at the Deer Lake Motel. Presenting to chamber representatives, municipal leaders and business figures, Schwartz said he is proud of the facility and what it is doing for the both the community and the region.
His figures show the airport is the second busiest facility in the province, and the fourth busiest in Atlantic Canada, with passenger records broken most of the past dozen or so years. So far this year, the airport has seen 20,000 in both January and February.
“We’re already above where we were last year, and we’ve had active growth for the last eight months,” said Schwartz. “We’re proud of our airport; a lot of people don’t realize what (it does) for the region.”
The airport is responsible for 350 full-time jobs with a $12-million direct salary output. He said almost 1,300 jobs are indirectly related to the airport, worth to the region about $87.6 million annually. With other factors, he said, figures show about $200 million annually is attributable to the facility. Factors include commuting workers, expanded tourism, increased airline capacity and new route networks.
Added airline routes are also in the mix, he said. Last year Alberta-based WestJet added year-round routes from Deer Lake to Toronto. Canadian North now flies out of Deer Lake seven days a week and charter airline Sunwing has started flying to the Dominican Republic and Cuba out of the airport.
Plans call for the longterm parking to be expanded, as well as an automated parking kiosk to be installed. New signage will be set up on the highway and automated flight information displays are on the way. Departure lounge televisions, he said, are coming soon, as well as exterior bench seating.
Schwartz said in spite of the good report, the airport is not without its challenges. With the region’s catchment of less than 100,000, it’s difficult to attract new airlines, and the declining population only makes it worse. A lacklustre regional economy, he said, can be a problem, as well as the seasonability of the market.
“Go into St. John’s and try to get a hotel in April, you can’t do it,” he said. “They have groups there working to attract conventions and no one seems to be doing that here.”
Last week the airport had nearly 1,000 vehicles in its longterm parking, no small feat for winter in this region. Last August the airport saw a monthly total of 40,000 in passenger traffic for the first time in its history.
The airport’s AGM is scheduled for Wednesday at the Holiday Inn Express, during which Schwartz said more numbers and the finances of the facility would be released.