The pandemic has grounded activity at the Comox Valley Airport.

Passenger numbers were down 95 per cent last month compared to April 2019.

Acting CEO Alex Robertson said that this has had a “significant impact” on the airport’s revenue.

“We’re managing, we’re taking advantage of the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy for our employees, so we’ve kept them at work,” Robertson said.

“The airport is open. WestJet’s flying four scheduled flights a week and Pacific Coastal (Airlines), we’re hoping for their start-up at the start of June, so we’re looking forward to that.”

Beginning June 2nd, Pacific Coastal Airlines will reinstate scheduled service to Vancouver on Tuesdays and Thursdays. 

Meanwhile, the airport has remained open since the start of the pandemic, and said it says it has “adapted and developed new measures to protect both passengers and airport workers from the spread of COVID-19.” 

The airport thanked its partners – the small businesses that provide support to the airlines and passengers. 

They have reduced staffing levels, are working remotely, or have temporarily closed. 

The airport also said its staff continues to facilitate “critical humanitarian work and essential travel,” including medevac, military, and limited scheduled service via WestJet to and from Calgary.

From suspending our Volunteer Ambassador program at the start of March, to enhanced cleaning regimens, installation of plexiglass screens at counters, spaced seating and floor markers, the airport says its staff “have been swift to ensure that current best practices are followed and new regulatory standards implemented.”

As well, new bag screening equipment is being installed which will help reduce security wait times. HVAC systems are regularly serviced, with filters replaced to ensure clean air flow within the terminal. 

Staff are using PPE and distancing when necessary in order to carry out fueling and other operational tasks.

Robertson said the biggest impact on airport traffic is potential travellers following the Provincial Health Officer’s guidelines.

“So non-essential travel has been restricted by both the provincial and federal government so that’s really what’s driving our decrease in passengers,” he added. 

“My hope is, that as the situation stabilizes a little, we’ll be able to open maybe inter-provincially – probably in the province, first, and then domestic travel will come back.”

He expects that it will “be a long time” before international travel returns.

Robertson said he senses a “pent-up demand” for people to visit family and friends.

“Most of our workers are still commuting and as those businesses open up, I expect that the commuters to Alberta, (and) Northern British Columbia, their numbers will increase, too.”

As for physical distancing measures leading to a rise in airfares, Robertson believes the airport’s cost structure is “pretty competitive.”

19 Wing has been key in helping aerodrome operations run smoothly. 

The base has even fabricated specialized aircrew masks on site.

“We can deal with some restrictions,” he added. “We’re very fortunate to be part of the base (19 Wing Comox). They look after the airfield, the air traffic control… all those aspects are done through them so our area of responsibility is limited so that makes our operating expenses significantly lower than other airports. That’s a key thing is that, all airports are different and we’re fortunate in our position on that one.”

The restricted numbers have helped the airport to adapt to physical distancing and enhance its cleaning procedures while streamlining its passenger flow.

“We’re trying it with a small group and then as we move through the recovery phase and passengers start to increase, we’ll be able to adapt more easily, I think, to that,” Robertson said.