Red Deer Airport Authority CEO RJ Steenstra confirmed on Monday that last year’s passenger count reached 25,819, which topped the 2013 tally of 11,997 by 115 per cent. In 2012, the airport served 1,468 passengers; in 2011, the figure was just 432.
“If you look at the last four years, the compound annual growth rate for the airport is 179 per cent,” said Steenstra. “That’s a significant number.”
The 2014 passenger total, which does not include charter services, was spread over approximately 3,000 arriving and departing flights by Air Canada and Northwestern Air Lease.
Steenstra speculated that the Red Deer Airport is the fastest-growing airport in Canada. But this success is prompting concerns about its ability to keep pace with demand.
“Before, market adoption was the constraint,” he said. “Now, it’s capacity.”
Steenstra said he’s in ongoing discussions with Air Canada about the potential for increasing the frequency of its Red Deer-Calgary flights, which currently consist of three round-trips daily. The other option is a longer runway that could handle larger aircraft.
Not only would that allow Air Canada to fly bigger planes out of Red Deer, it should make the airport more attractive to other operators. Discount carriers Canada Jetlines and Jet Naked have both shown interest in the Red Deer Airport, said Steenstra, and a longer runway could also open the door for heavy cargo planes and holiday charter services.
“That would really create and unlock the airport.”
The current plan is to extend Red Deer Airport’s 5,500-foot (1,675-metre) runway to 7,500 feet (2,285 metres), at a cost of about $8.2 million. Proposed development of other airport lands to accommodate more aviation-related businesses would bump the funds needed to approximately $11 million, said Steenstra.
Red Deer County and the City of Red Deer have pledged a combined $3.5 million, with the Airport Authority now looking to other levels of government and even the private sector for additional money.
“We’re working very diligently to raise the remaining dollars to get them in place so that we can start construction in the spring,” said Steenstra.
If this ambitious timeline can be met, he said, the expanded runway could be operational by the end of this year.
Red Deer Airport’s increased passenger count also means it again qualifies for funding under the federal Airport Capital Assistance Program. If its application is successful, the grant would be used for the maintenance and improvement of the airport’s existing facilities, said Steenstra.