The Trail Regional Airport (YZZ) may soon be known as the little engine that could.
Since taking ownership of the service back in 2014, Trail council has been steadfast in raising the profile of the 4,000-foot airstrip as a key economic driver for the region.
Recent statistics as well as federal and provincial financial support are now backing that claim.
Perhaps the most telling factor is the passenger count, which continues to climb — the number is up 744 passengers to date.
Airport manager Robert Baker says August totals haven’t been calculated yet, however, counts continue to rise in comparison to last year, and equate to an additional $9,672 in revenue from passenger fees.
He presented a YZZ update to Trail officials during the Monday governance meeting, and attributed positive growth to better exposure of the airport — locals are starting to get the message that Trail has an option for flyers.
“I spent some time trying to figure out why we are seeing an increase in the passengers load, it hovers around six to seven per cent depending on the month,” he began. “So obviously we are getting exposure from the terminal building project and pavement project, we issued tenders and we are getting calls from the media, the news … and I think that’s part of it.”
He says people who didn’t know there was a Trail airport are now hearing about it via social media and billboard advertising.
“(Some) are first time users, maybe coming from Castlegar,” he speculated. “I don’t think there’s 700 people in the West Kootenay who have never flown in a plane,” Baker reasoned. “I think they are literally migrating from other travel options towards the Trail Regional Airport.”
Reliability is another vital feature of airport success.
Baker noted that landing rates have been 100 per cent this summer and well above 90 per cent in January, April and May. Since Nav Canada approved lower ceilings earlier this year, even during the harsh months of February and March, landing rates were 73 per cent and 81 per cent respectively.
Baker mentioned an unexpected source of revenue this month — fuel sales to helicopter pilots fighting wildfires.
Typically, selling Jet-A fuel at YZZ is a challenge because Vancouver airport sells fuel from its own pumps at a lower cost.
“We can’t compete with their rate,” said Baker. “But what has helped us this year so far is the fire season, we’ve had a lot of activity with with Southeast Fire Centre helicopters coming into Trail Regional Airport,” he added. “We’ve sold about 15,000 litres in the last two weeks, which is significant.”
Another big improvement garnering attention locally and beyond is construction of the Airport Terminal Building, which is currently underway.
The project became a reality last year with a $1.2 million grant from the province to help build a new structure that, with investment from the city, includes large viewing windows, amenities and supportive infrastructure such as a potable water source.
Coun. Kevin Jolly, chair of the Airport Steering Committee (ASC), confirmed the facility is on target for completion by early November.
The roof, exterior cladding and electrical work is done, while civil work for a new water main continues, and interior space with framing is now underway.
“A decision was made at the last ASC to add three additional interior windows to improve natural light and viewability of the airfield with the approaching air traffic,” he added. “Additional information and consideration will be given to also expanding some of the landscaping work around the terminal building and the relocation of the fence line.”
In the next few weeks, the city’s $4.2 million federal grant through the Airport Capital Assistance Program will roll onto the tarmac as a runway rehabilitation project that includes widening of the taxiway and up-to-date technology for reporting runway surface conditions during inclement weather.
Selkirk Paving will begin paving around Sept. 1 and wind up the job within three weeks.
“We are looking at a much short completion time, two to three weeks versus the previous six to eight weeks for completion,” Jolly said. “(They’ve) figured out a methodology to get this done in a shorter amount of time with no disruption to air traffic in terms of passenger inconvenience, so we are pretty excited about that.”
Additionally, a plan is being developed to re-use grindings from the present runway to surface overflow parking toward the south end of the airport property.