The passenger count at Victoria International Airport rose slightly to top 1.5 million in 2012, keeping it ahead of Kelowna, even as the southern interior airport reported strong increases.
Victoria International climbed by 0.4 per cent last year from 1.49 million in 2011, which was a drop from 1.5 million in 2010.
Kelowna International Airport passengers increased by 3.6 per cent in 2012, to 1.44 million from 1.39 million in 2011.
Last year, Victoria was 10th among Canada’s busiest airports based on passenger numbers, with Kelowna following in 11th place, according to Statistics Canada data in a September report.
Both airports — which trail Vancouver as the busiest in B.C. — are watching WestJet closely, hoping to win extra business through that airline’s new Q400 turboprop regional service expected to launch this year.
Air Canada is also launching a discount brand, Rouge, this year.
Airport officials are continuing to approach airlines with the aim of adding more direct flights to major cities and holiday destinations.
“I’d like to see a bigger increase, but the one area I take comfort in is that every quarter for the year 2012 showed improvement over 2011. To me, that is a positive sign,” Geoff Dickson, Victoria Airport Authority chief executive officer, said Tuesday.
Domestic traffic was up by 1.5 per cent for the entire year in Victoria, Dickson said. However, U.S. traffic was down by four per cent, due in part to a reduction in flight frequency to and from San Francisco for a few months last year.
“All things considered, we are pretty pleased to be up over the 1.5-million passenger mark,” Dickson said. “We are cautiously optimistic for 2013 that we will really start to see an uptick in traffic.”
Dickson is talking with airlines in the hopes of adding direct flights to Los Angeles to serve the tourism, business and film industry markets. He would also like to see direct flights to Ottawa.
Meanwhile, Comox Valley Airport recorded “unprecedented growth” of six per cent in 2012, double the target in the airport’s strategic plan, said airport CEO Fred Bigelow.
Comox handled 327,827 passengers last year, an increase of nearly 19,000 from 2011. Last year’s performance surpassed its previous record of 310,450 in 2007.
Bigelow is hoping that last year’s performance signals a recovery from the economic crisis.
The Comox area is a bedroom community for workers commuting to the oil patch and northern B.C., who take regular scheduled flights or travel via charter aircraft, he said.
Comox has regular WestJet service from Calgary and Edmonton, plus a direct seasonal flights to Puerto Vallarta. Air Transat has discontinued flights to Cancun and Puerto Vallarta. “We are working really hard to replace that for the coming year,” Bigelow said, noting that there’s high passenger demand for sunspot destinations.
In Kelowna, every month last year except for May and December, was a record-breaker, said Jenelle Hynes, marketing and media relations manager.
She attributes higher passenger traffic to stronger partnerships with local tourism organizations to market the region, which is popular for skiing and wineries.
Like Comox, Hynes points to commuter traffic, saying some local residents will travel for work in the oil patch, to high-tech jobs in the San Francisco and Los Angeles areas, and to Europe.
Also, United Airlines began offering new flights to Los Angeles starting last month.
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