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Halifax airport: Domestic flights good, international rising

Joyce Carter, president and CEO of the Halifax International Airport Authority. DAN CALLIS
Joyce Carter, president and CEO of the Halifax International Airport Authority. DAN CALLIS - The Chronicle Herald

Domestic passenger growth has been good at the Halifax International airport but, according to Joyce Carter, international flights will propel that growth in the future.

In 2017 the airport authority was happy to achieve its goal of reaching the four-million-passenger mark, with a 4.5 per cent increase in the number of passengers served in 2016, says Carter, the president and CEO of the Halifax International Airport Authority.

During 2017 the airport served 4,083,188 passengers compared to the previous record year of 3,908,799 passengers logged in 2016.

“The largest growth is on domestic flights — domestic would be our flights to elsewhere in Canada — it’s up 6.5 per cent,” she said in a recent interview.

Over the past five years, Carter said, Halifax Stanfield’s passenger volume has increased by 13.9 per cent, which equates to an additional 500,000 passengers.

The airport boss pointed out that one of the largest contributors to the increased business has been WestJet, which has increased its passenger business in Halifax over the last five years by 160 per cent.

When the federal government transferred the operation of the airport to a local authority in 2000, Carter said the airport was serving less than three million passengers annually.

“Our international traffic last year was pretty well flat — a couple of changes with schedules that didn’t see us grow internationally year-over-year, however, an announcement like the ones (recently made by WestJet) is going to make a tremendous difference,” Carter said.

WestJet announced it would be flying a daily flight, directly from Halifax to London’s Gatwick Airport on a seasonal basis, starting in May. Likewise, the Calgary-based airline is flying directly from Halifax to Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris on a daily basis, during the same seasonal, May-to-late-October period.

“These are two direct international flights out of Halifax, they’re seasonal, so starting in the spring and going to late in October, but they’re daily flights going into France, which is a new destination for WestJet and to London’s Gatwick airport, which will be new for us on a daily basis starting this year,” she said.

Although WestJet will be flying a 737-MAX on both routes, which is limited to 174 passengers, Carter said the fact that it will be daily flights will have a significant impact on the airport’s international passengers numbers this year.

“We’re well served domestically. . . . Our location on the eastern seaboard, however, gives us real opportunity to connect more broadly internationally. So, because of being right on the coast and the introduction of new high-technology aircraft such as the 737-MAX, it really does become efficient for carriers like WestJet to do direct service into locations in Europe and U.K.,” said Carter.

And that is the airport authority’s growth plan, she said. “We are a hub today in Atlantic Canada, so that means air traffic in Halifax feeds from other airports in Atlantic Canada and goes beyond. That’s where we see the real growth. It’s not that we ever want to stop growing domestically, but in terms of the real growth going forward, we feel it will be international, particularly into Europe, the U.K. and into markets like France.”

Carter said Germany is a big potential market for the Halifax airport and Frankfurt is a destination the authority spends a lot of time talking about.

“It would be great to get a direct service into Frankfurt. That’s one that we certainly are working on and it would be nice to see the day when we have a carrier decide to do that as a direct route as well,” Carter said.

The airport authority hasn’t finished collecting all the data to determine its 2017 cargo numbers for the year end, she said, adding that cargo service development is a priority for the airport authority.

“Cargo volume, for us, is really about the cargo development in the region. Passenger volume is too, to an extent as well, but for sure cargo is being able to provide that increase to the exporters and in particular in this case, the fishers.”

The largest growth for the cargo flights is on the international end, she said, with direct service out of Halifax to locations around the world.

But from an airport perspective, Carter admitted, cargo traffic is important, but passenger growth is what will drive growth at the airport.

“The thing with passenger growth — it allows us to generate what we call non-aeronautical revenue, so passengers who are catching these flights are enjoying the services that we have to offer at the airport, unlike cargo,” she said.

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