Pacific Coastal Airlines is setting its sights on northern B.C. with direct flights between Victoria and Prince George on Monday.
“Our intention is to look at other opportunities once we establish Prince George as our beachhead,” said Kevin Boothroyd, director of sales and marketing for Pacific Coastal.
The six-day-a-week service — there are no flights on Saturdays — will see a 30-seat Saab A340 turboprop depart Victoria International Airport at 5 p.m. and arrive in Prince George at 6:40 p.m. It will leave Prince George at 7:05 p.m., and be back in Victoria at 8:45 p.m.
The one-way cost is $140 with an early booking, Boothroyd said.
Introduced to take advantage of northern resource development, it is the only direct service between Victoria and Prince George. Other airlines offer direct flights between Vancouver and Prince George. Pacific Coastal already operates flights between Victoria and Vancouver, as well as more than 65 destinations along the coast and southern B.C. It also has a float- plane base at Port Hardy.
The 40-year-old company is the sixth largest airline operating at Vancouver airport in terms of outbound seats, with 220,000 a year, Boothroyd said. Seats represent capacity, not actual passengers.
Growth opportunity for the airline is limited in areas it already serves, Boothroyd said.
“The real development for the next 100 years is going to be in the north and up until Prince George we did not have a toehold in that region,” he said. “We were looking for a long time for a door to enter the north.”
No decisions have been made about expanding flight services in the north, he said. The focus is to first establish the new service between Victoria and Prince George.
Resource development in northern B.C. and Alberta has fuelled investment and jobs. Boothroyd anticipates the Victoria-Prince George flight will attract government officials, students travelling to post-secondary institutions in either community and workers heading to Prince George and on to other communities.
A businessperson could fly into either location in the evening for a one-night hotel stay, have a full day doing business and return that night, he said.
Prince George has a population of nearly 80,000 and is a government and service centre for northern B.C. Its airport handled a record 426,709 passengers in 2013.
Any time a direct flight is introduced, it will bring a positive economic impact, said Bruce Carter, chief executive officer of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce. “I think it is a particularly good connection for both the mining and forestry industries and there’s a lot of work that needs to be done here around that.”
Christie Ray, chief executive of the Prince George Chamber of Commerce, said the new service will cut travelling time for those wanting to do business between the communities. There’s a “lot of buzz” across the board within Prince George’s business community about the direct flight, she said.
Victoria International Airport passenger numbers have been climbing and the facility is expected to set a record for 2014.