[ST. JOHN'S, NL] — Passenger traffic through St. John’s International Airport reached nearly 1.5 million people in 2012, a six per cent increase over 2011.
The airport authority released the figures Wednesday in a news release that noted the St. John’s airport, with about 1,450,000 passengers last year, is now the 10th-busiest airport in the country.
Keith Collins, president and CEO of the airport authority, called 2012, the busiest year on record, “another solid year.”
“It just keeps on growing,” he said. “This kind of growth at the airport here in St. John’s really speaks to the strength of this region’s economy, because it’s a very strong link between how an economy’s doing and the demand for air travel. So when the economy’s doing well, the demand for air travel is up, and I think it works the other way as well, that if demand for air travel is up, it benefits the economy.”
About 85 airport maintenance workers have been on strike since Sept. 11, which may have slowed growth, acknowledged Collins, with labour-sympathetic convention organizers cancelling conferences and travellers bypassing the St. John’s airport in favour of Gander.
But he said any effect caused by the strike has been minimal.
“The fourth quarter was up almost four per cent over the fourth quarter of 2011,” he said. “We processed 330,000 passengers in the fourth quarter, so there was strong growth there. … I wouldn’t say there was no effect, but the effect of those sorts of decisions has been fairly modest when you’re looking at four per cent growth in the fourth quarter.”
Chris Bussey, a negotiator for the union that represents the striking workers, said it was “perplexing” that the airport saw a record number of passengers last year but is putting “money and time and effort into fighting the employees” on strike, rather than reaching a new agreement.
“We know the airport is doing really well. The province is doing well,” he said. “We don’t think it’s in spite of the employees that the airport is doing well; we think we contribute to that as well, and we want to see some gains and be respected for the work we do as well.”
Collins said the airport is projecting growth of about 2 1/2 to three per cent in 2013.
“The airlines are continuing to make new investments,” said Collins, pointing out Air Canada’s regular flight to London’s Heathrow Airport will begin in April this year rather than its usual May start.
WestJet expanded its regular Orlando service from 12 weeks to 28 weeks, and Sun Charters is bumping up its number of seats to Florida and the Caribbean this year by 54 per cent.
“The airlines see St. John’s as a good market. They keep on investing in terms of additional flights, additional capacity, larger aircraft, extended seasons and so on,” Collins said.