Red Deer airport getting busier

Liam O’Connell is in better spirits these days than he was four months ago.

Liam O’Connell is in better spirits these days than he was four months ago.

The CEO of the Red Deer Regional Airport ended 2009 with a desperate push for passengers to ensure the local airport would qualify for Airports Capital Assistance Program funding. Ultimately, a seat sale that was subsidized by the Red Deer Regional Airport Authority helped push the tally past the required 1,000 mark.

With the economy now on the mend, it doesn’t appear that O’Connell and other officials at the airport will need to worry about passenger counts this year.

“We’re looking really good,” he said, noting that the airport’s first-quarter numbers are double what they were last year — despite unusually foggy conditions.

O’Connell is particularly encouraged by the performance of Swanberg Air, which offers flights through Calgary to Swift Current, Regina and Estevan, Sask., and north to Edmonton and Grande Prairie.

“They’re doubling month over month,” he said, noting that the Grande Prairie-based airline has boosted the frequency of its northern flights from three to five per week since it commenced local service in October.

Swanberg’s flights south and into Saskatchewan have remained at four per week.

O’Connell attributes this success to the fact that regional travellers are becoming aware of Swanberg’s service, and the growing demand for transportation to the busy Bakken oil field in southeastern Saskatchewan and Horn River Basin in northeastern British Columbia.

The other airline flying out of the Red Deer Regional Airport, Northwestern Air Lease Ltd., offers twice-weekly flights to and from Fort McMurray.

It indicated previously that it wants to add service from Red Deer to Kelowna and Abbotsford, B.C.