Fort St. John, British Columbia might not be the first place you think of when you list Canadian destinations, but thanks to a booming oil, gas and energy sector, it is at the centre of B.C.’s fastest-growing resource economy. And because an economy is only as good as its air access, North Peace Regional Airport (YXJ) in Fort St. John is keeping pace as a growing gateway to this burgeoning industry.
More than 186,000 passengers flew through YXJ in 2013, a year over year increase of 29.2 per cent, thanks largely to growing employment in the resource sector. In 2014, the airport is on pace to welcome 230,000 passengers. Since 1997, North Peace Regional Airport has opened a 30,139 square foot (2,800 square metre) terminal and upgraded its apron, taxiways and airfield lighting.
Typically, employees working in the oil, gas or energy sectors report for a ten-day stint, followed by four or five days off, and so the cycle goes. This cycle is made possible by regular air service, which is currently provided by Air Canada Jazz, Central Mountain Air and WestJet Encore to Western Canada’s three largest cities – Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton – along with other important regional destinations throughout B.C.
And while these daily domestic connections are quick and convenient, the YXJ airport management team is actively courting new airline partners to bring a new offering to its residents: international traffic to warm-weather destinations. “I believe there is an incredible opportunity for the right airline partner - or partners - to capture leisure traffic from our boomtown to destinations beyond Canada,” said Mike Whalley, Managing Director, YXJ.
“Thanks to more competitive airfares, we’ve seen our leisure passenger numbers jump in recent years. We know that North Peace residents and resource sector employees would love the opportunity to hop on a flight from Fort St. John to destinations further afield - like Las Vegas for an extended weekend or a destination in Mexico for some R & R," he added.
In the meantime, YXJ officials have recently tapped into Vantage Airport Group’s suite of services to prepare for future growth. Harnessing data from Vantage’s process engineering service, YXJ officials are taking a closer look at where passengers are spending their time, where line-ups are causing pinch points, and what passengers want in the way of infrastructure and amenities.
This data is helping to guide the airport’s planned $250 million investment in passenger experience upgrades, which will include improved amenities. YXJ will also cut the ribbon on a new $4 million parking facility this fall and introduce an airfield firefighting and emergency response team in 2015.
Several major resource opportunities are pending in the region, including a potential liquefied natural gas sector valued at an estimated $20 billion and a proposed $10 billion hydroelectric dam. To ensure its growth keeps pace with industry, North Peace Regional Airport is keeping a close eye on the status of these and other projects, ready to amend, update or accelerate its capital program in service of more and more passengers.
Fort St. John residents enjoy the highest disposable income of any city in British Columbia, 16 per cent above the provincial average. Nationally, Fort St. John ranks among the top 20 Canadian cities with the highest disposable incomes. This can be explained by its youthful and energetic community with a median age of 30.6 years. These support B.C.’s Peace River region which has some of the largest oil and gas fields in North America, with more than 588 cubic yards (450 billion cubic metres) of untapped reserves.
Whatever its next step, North Peace Regional Airport appears ready to serve Canada’s newest boomtown.