Winnipeg airport passenger numbers surge
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Passenger traffic at the Winnipeg Richardson International Airport finished the year with a surge with the second to last day of the year experiencing the busiest day the airport has seen since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020.
Those 12,000 travellers on Dec. 30 allowed the Winnipeg Airports Authority to finish 2022 with exactly two-thirds of the passenger totals it had in 2019 — 3,031,113 versus 4.5 million in 2019.
Nick Hays, president and CEO of WAA, said the speed with which passengers are returning is encouraging.
“It is proceeding pretty positively. We have been pleasantly surprised at the pace of recovery and looking to the future we see that continuing,” he said.
Winnipeg was not immune to the weather-related cancellations and delays throughout North America near the end of the year, but Hays believes there is positive momentum on the return of air travel passengers.
The three million passengers in 2022 was 250 per cent more than both 2020 and 2021 but lower than any other year in the past 15 years.
But while passenger numbers came in 67.6 per cent of 2019’s total, the WAA’s total revenue for the year of about $131 million, was about 93 per cent of 2019’s total.
The disconnect between the passenger and revenue comparisons is that the WAA increased its Airport Improvement Fee by more than 50 per cent in September, 2020 to $38. Winnipeg now has the largest such fee of any airport in the country.
Hays said traffic was drastically diminished in 2020 the WAA made a decision to raise the fees to keep the airport open and safe.
“As a large degree of our costs are fixed, we had to do something in order to increase our revenue,” he said.
The airport is still carrying significant debt from the construction of the terminal 11 years ago and Hays said it will be several more years before the airport gets “back to a position of financial sustainability”.
Cargo traffic continues to grow gradually every year, although Hays said it decreased as a percentage of WAA’s total revenue in 2022.
But he said the growth was more than enough to reaffirm its decision to build a $30 million multi-tenant air cargo facility at the site of the old Air Canada cargo building.
Perhaps the most exciting news for Winnipeg air travellers of late was the introduction of direct flight to Los Angeles from WestJet. Hays said things have been going well on the route in the three months it has been operating.
The airport lost its direct flights to Chicago last year and Hays said one of his top priorities is to identify new routes.
Although he would not give any indication of what might be close, he said, “We are looking at a number of points in the U.S. which we know are at high demand for travellers in and out of Winnipeg.”
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.