SAINT JOHN – After setting passenger records over the last two years, the Saint John Airport has set ambitious goals for the next five years, with plans to top 500,000 yearly passengers by 2025 and add U.S. and overseas flights.
As an interim goal, the airport wants to top 350,000 passengers in 2020 and add a direct connection to the U.S.
“The U.S. connection is one of our [highest priorities],” said board chair Larry Hachey at the airport’s annual general meeting at the Delta Hotel Wednesday.
“We’ve been working on it for a long time and we do believe we’re very close [to securing a U.S. flight]…There is an opportunity with a Canadian-based carrier, and the city that we’d most likely be looking at is Boston if it’s at all possible. That’s the one we’re looking at at the moment because of the historical ties between Saint John and Boston. And [business travellers] have told us that’s their preferred city.”
In 2018, 282,217 people flew out of the Saint John John Airport, a seven per cent increase over last year and the airport’s second consecutive record-breaking year in passenger traffic, said CEO Derrick Stanford.
“That was more passenger traffic than any previous year in our history, and an extra 30,000 passengers in just two years, which is really significant growth for our little airport,” said Stanford.
“Our passenger growth in the last few months made the Saint John Airport the fastest growing Atlantic Canadian airport in 2018, which includes all [ariports] with annual traffic of 200,000 passengers a year or more. We also finished as the fastest growing for [the first quarter] of 2019, so the success continues.”
All three of New Brunswick’s main airports set records for passenger travel last year, but Stanford said it’s hard for Saint John to add more flights and destinations and make even more substantial gains in passenger traffic because the region’s airports are so close to one another.
“People are always asking me, ‘why don’t you bring back WestJet, or add new sun destinations?’ We want that as well, but people who live in southern New Brunswick drive to other airports like Moncton, Halifax, Fredericton, or even Maine to get a better fare or fly with another airline…It actually makes it less likely that Saint John Airport will ever be able to attract new airlines like WestJet, so passengers may always have to drive from Saint John,” he said.
“Success attracts success, so when existing airlines like Air Canada, Porter or Sunwing are successful it means they’ll offer more flights out of YSJ…Or they might offer new destinations in Canada or the U.S.”
Stanford also said that increased activity leads to lower fares.
“When other airlines see Porter and Sunwing being successful here it makes it more likely we will attract them. The more airline partners we can attract the more competition we can attract and this increased competition results in lower fares,” he said.
“We certainly saw that when we launched Porter last year when the average airfare in Saint John fell anywhere from 15 to 20 per cent, depending on when you were flying.”