New air service touches down in Red Deer

Local air travellers should soon be able to fly more often and in more directions. Swanberg Air Inc. plans to commence passenger service from the Red Deer Regional Airport on Oct. 13, with routes to Calgary, Edmonton and Grande Prairie. And starting Nov. 2, it expects to fly from Grande Prairie to Red Deer, and then on to Calgary, Swift Current, Regina and Estevan, Sask.

Liam O’Connell

Local air travellers should soon be able to fly more often and in more directions.

Swanberg Air Inc. plans to commence passenger service from the Red Deer Regional Airport on Oct. 13, with routes to Calgary, Edmonton and Grande Prairie. And starting Nov. 2, it expects to fly from Grande Prairie to Red Deer, and then on to Calgary, Swift Current, Regina and Estevan, Sask.

Meanwhile, Northwestern Air Lease Ltd. — which currently offers passenger flights between Red Deer and Fort McMurray — is preparing to add flights from the Red Deer Regional Airport to Kelowna and Abbotsford, B.C. The Fort Smith, N.W.T.-based airline hopes to introduce the service next spring.

The intentions of both airlines were announced Tuesday afternoon during a news conference at the local airport, which is located at Springbrook.

“Red Deer’s airport is situated in a ‘sweet spot’ at the centre of our existing routes, and it’s also centrally located in our expansion plans as well,” said Swanberg general manager Rich Wilde.

That’s expected to translate into four local flights a day, several days each week.

Swanberg started in Grande Prairie in 2000, and now flies between that city and Fort St. John and Fort Nelson, B.C., and Calgary. It will service the Central Alberta market with a 16-passenger Jetstream.

Travellers flying with the airline from Red Deer to Grande Prairie will be able to connect from there to Dawson Creek, Fort St. John and Fort Nelson, B.C.

Swanberg will also offer freight, crew change and hot shot services, said Wilde.

Asked about the Calgary and Edmonton airports luring travellers away from the Red Deer Regional Airport, Wilde said the “convenience factor” should prompt many to choose the local airport.

Trevor Wever, operations manager with Northwestern, said his company used to fly from Yellowknife, N.W.T., to Kelowna, via Grande Prairie. That service was discontinued about three years ago, he said, but Northwestern remains interested in flying to the B.C. interior.

“Kelowna has been on our radar for quite some time.”

A Jetstream plane would be used for this western route, said Wever. He added that it’s too earlier to comment on fares, other than to say they would be “competitive” with those offered by other carriers.

Randy Preece, chairman of the Red Deer Regional Airport Authority, said there are good reasons to believe Northwestern’s new route will succeed.

“Our consultants who have measured the traffic between the Okanagan Valley and Central Alberta have confirmed that it is indeed a robust business opportunity, with a rumoured 4,000 Central Albertans owning property there.”

He added that major energy developments in the Horn River Basin of northeastern B.C. and the Bakken Formation in southern Saskatchewan should generate traffic for Swanberg’s routes.

Preece also said that a recent study into the potential of the Red Deer Regional Airport was a key to attracting the new air services. It confirmed that the Red Deer Regional Airport could support high-volume scheduled air service.

Wilde said that study had “great input” into Swanberg’s business plan.

Preece hinted that more announcements concerning the Red Deer Regional Airport could come shortly.

The airport authority continues to seek turboprop service to destinations across Western Canada, he said, as well as non-stop jet service to Toronto and Vancouver, and to southern vacation destinations.

“That’s what we’re working on. That’s what’s going to happen in the next few years.”

Jet service would require an expansion of the airport’s runway and terminal, he said. Until that happens, the authority wants to provide the “best air service we can facilitate within the confines of our present physical limitations.”

That in turn, said Preece, should increase the likelihood of getting funding for the infrastructure improvements needed to attract major carriers.

hrichards@bprda.wpengine.com

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