Trail Regional Airport (Photo City of Trail)

Trail Regional Airport (Photo City of Trail)

Early winter impacts 2017 passenger count at YZZ

From January to October passenger counts climbed at least six per cent monthly

The West Kootenay winter kept passenger counts from flying off the charts at the Trail airport last year.

After trending up at least six per cent monthly from January to October, early snowfall and heavy storms significantly grounded commuter counts the final eight weeks.

“The final numbers were a little less than we anticipated,” Coun. Kevin Jolly reported in Feb. 26 council. “There was tough weather toward the end of the year, we were trending toward a six per cent increase based on what we saw coming into November and December … but it was shaved off a bit based on the weather, and unfortunately, there’s not much we can do about that.”

Almost 1,000 fewer passengers flew in/out of Trail the last two months of the year compared to November and December 2016 tallies.

“Snow and ice removal has gone smoothly so far this winter season,” explained Robert Baker, manager of the Trail Regional Airport (YZZ) .

“Flights delays and cancellation due to weather have been the primary challenge.”

The final tally was still higher – 20,695 people caught a flight at YZZ in 2018 compared to 20,540 the year previous.

“The numbers are basically identical,” Baker clarified. “Whereas landing success rates are weather dependent. In this respect, scheduled flights into Trail enjoyed a 88 per cent landing success rate and flights into Castlegar from YVR (Vancouver) enjoyed a 76 per cent landing success rate,” he added.

“In addition to the flights that landed in Trail, Pacific Coastal Airlines also landed a number of flights into Castlegar, and so the ‘success’ rate may be a bit higher than 88 per cent.”

In all, there were 1,376 Pacific Coastal Airlines flights at YZZ last year compared to 1,371 in 2016.

Airport operations were on council’s table last week as the city’s user agreement with Pacific Coastal was up for renewal. The per-seat fee charged to the airline was upped one dollar in February, 2017 to $13. This year, Trail officials agreed to make no further changes until July 2019.

“The agreement and shorter term will allow both the city and (Pacific Coastal Airlines) to assess the associated impacts of the agreement going forward with the new terminal in place,” Chief Administrative Officer David Perehudoff noted. “Eighteen months should provide sufficient opportunity for the city to assess the revenue versus cost implications as part of trying to maintain a satisfactory revenue recovery and minimize the level of property tax subsidy.”

As far as budget goes, expanding services at the Trail airport will not impact 2018 property taxes.

One of council’s strategic priorities, set four years ago, was to up the airport profile and operations. First, the city secured a $1.2 million provincial grant to build a new terminal, which opened mid-November. (Technically, this is YZZ’s first terminal building as the Trail Flying Club’s clubhouse was rented for terminal-use until the new facility was completed in 2017)

Then, with full support from the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary, the city was successful in its $4.5 million bid for a federal grant from the Airport Capital Assistance Program. The money covered 100 per cent of the $4.43-million cost to re-pave YZZ’s runway last fall.

According to Perehudoff’s 2018 budget summary, the airport accounts for approximately 2.5 per cent of the city’s expenditures, granted costs related to the terminal are new this year.

Additionally, Trail council approved a new organizational structure in 2017 that involved hiring three more employees to address airport operations, such as staffing the terminal 365 days of the year.

“Along with additional operating costs, the city will realize more revenue from leases and advertising,” Perehudoff notes in the 2018 budget.

The net deficit for airport operations increased by $28,150 even though expenses increase by $71,000. City revenue directly funds 75 per cent of YZZ expenses.