Victoria airport passenger count for 2013 breaks record

Victoria International Airport hit a new high for passengers last year.

A total of 1,556,960 passengers went through the airport in 2013, eclipsing the record set five years ago by 18,500 passengers, or 1.2 per cent.

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The total was boosted by an increase in American tourists, arrival of WestJet’s Encore service and overall economic recovery in Canada, the Victoria Airport Authority said.

Officials said the record numbers deliver optimism to the business and tourism sectors as they look ahead this year.

Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce chairman and tourism consultant Frank Bourree credited Victoria Airport Authority president Geoff Dickson and his staff for “doing a fantastic job” in driving more business to YYJ. Bouree noted the airport worked hard on adding direct flights, building capacity and “building one of the most beautiful airports in the country.”

“High endorsement for their marketing efforts and their working with their stakeholders to get more flights in this community, which is critical to the tourism industry,” said Bourree.

Victoria’s airport is ranked the 10th busiest in Canada based on passengers. Aircraft movements also rose, largely due to WestJet’s new Encore service, Dickson said Wednesday. The Victoria airport accommodates about 120 daily flights.

Last year’s passenger numbers surpassed the 1,506,212 passengers in 2012, a difference of 3.4 per cent. The largest growth was seen in the domestic market, Dickson said.

Dickson expects continued growth in the airline sector this year with further strengthening of the U.S. economy and more tourists if Canada’s loonie continues to weaken against the U.S. dollar. He is also hoping that Air Canada Rouge will bring flights to Victoria late this year or in 2015.

Last year was “extraordinary,” Dickson said.

Results were strong throughout the year. Each quarter surpassed the same quarter in 2012, and August and December set all-time monthly records for passengers.

Highlights included winning awards from Airport Council International for service quality and for environmental mitigation award for its Reay Creek restoration project on the airport’s property.

The 9.3-kilometre-long bike and walking path around the airport was finished and is a hit. “Every day, more and more people are using it,” Dickson said. “It’s a really unique way to connect the airport with the community.”

Terminal renovations will continue this year with local brewing company, Spinnakers, opening its On the Fly lounge late this month in the lower passenger departure lounge.

A $7.5-million project to resurface the main runway will begin in early summer. Construction will take place when the weather is suitable and during the evening hours, Dickson said. The project will last six to eight weeks and is designed to improve the overall safety of the runway, he said.

Dickson said a potential runway extension that could see larger planes and international flights using YYJ is years away.

“Our biggest priorities right now are focusing on building North American services and making sure we have adequate facilities to bring in new carriers and adequate capacity to handle the growth,” he said.

Year-end financial results from the Victoria Airport Authority are not expected until April.

Bruce Carter, president and CEO of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce, said airport numbers are another sign of economic recovery. “I’d be surprised if the trend doesn’t continue.”

Carter is predicting growth of all of Greater Victoria’s transportation terminals, including B.C. Ferries and the Inner Harbour, where ferries and float planes offer regular service.

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