The Smithers Regional Airport has experienced a dramatic increase in traffic this year.
At the regular Town of Smithers council meeting Nov. 12, airport manager Rob Blackburn said the facility saw a 10 per cent increase in passenger numbers and a 12 per cent jump in aircraft movements over the same period in 2012.
Blackburn said a very busy tourism season, mainly due to Smithers’ Centennial, and mining and gas exploration and route mapping are responsible for the increased numbers.
Now, the challenge is to keep those numbers up, Blackburn said.
WestJet has started flying daily out of Terrace to Vancouver, which may cause some in the Bulkley Valley to look elsewhere to fill their transportation needs.
“I think our job is to convince the public and prove to the public that driving to Terrace and flying with WestJet is not necessarily the best option,” he said. “I think people will soon realize that although the flight itself is cheap in Terrace, the overall cost is not that much less.”
Also, with the increased traffic, Smithers’ airport is bursting at the seams, badly in need of expansion, Blackburn said. The terminal expansion has been under discussion for some time and Blackburn is working with engineers right now to finalize a floor plan, which he expects to deliver to council for approval early in the new year.
At the meeting, council also agreed to lobby the provincial and federal governments to receive more funding for capital purchases, such as a new runway sweeper after the airport’s 11-year-old “new” sweeper broke down last week.
“To buy this piece of equipment from our own reserves would be very difficult,” Blackburn said, adding a new runway sweeper could cost the town more than a quarter of a million dollars.
Mayor Taylor Bachrach said the airport numbers show the town is on the right path with projects they have been working on at the airport, namely the marketing plan, terminal expansion and the opening up of land surrounding the facility for lease, which is why council agreed to work with other levels of government to ensure the airport has the equipment it needs to continue to grow.
“The airport is such a critical asset for our community we have to make sure we are taking care of [the maintenance] aspect of things as well,” Bachrach said. “We’ve done a bunch of work around marketing the airport, the terminal expansion study and the industrial subdivision but there’s some real needs around airport equipment and we’ll do everything we can to ensure those needs are filled.”