Although Smithers airport’s (YYD) passenger fee is comparatively high, that is not why it is so expensive to fly out of Smithers according to a recent report to council.
At council’s Jan. 14 regular meeting, airport manager Rob Blackburn and Ellena Schuffert, a co-op student working with him, presented the results of a survey comparing fees at 15 other similar-sized airports in the province.
“The survey results should not be viewed as an opportunity to increase fees,” the report states. “Airport staff feels the comparisons should be utilized to find each and every location where fees can be reduced to create a positive economic environment where air operators and land tenants will want to expand into. Having low fees should assist in attracting businesses and encouraging airlines to offer competitive fares.”
In fact, Smithers already has the lowest fees in the North in almost every category. Comparing only direct competitor airports in Terrace, Prince Rupert and Prince George the total cost for an airline to operate at YYD is half what it costs at the next cheapest airport. Smithers charges $432 while Prince George’s fee is $968.
Terrace charges airlines $2,574 and in Rupert it is a whopping $3,744.
Breaking it down by seat, the report indicates total cost to airlines is $5.54 (Smithers), $12.41 (Prince George), $33 (Terrace) and $48 (Rupert).
Despite this, ticket prices are consistently $100 or more cheaper out of Terrace and often out of Prince George for a flight to Vancouver.
Smithers Acting Mayor Gladys Atrill said it is frustrating.
“Passengers feel that they’re paying too much,” she said. “This [report] doesn’t change that pain, but it makes it more evident that the cost that is being charged per passenger does not relate solely to the fees and the costs of the airline using the airport.”
Atrill said she believes it comes down to lack of competition at YYD.
“The passenger price ticket is being charged simply because it can be charged,” she said.
The Interior News has requested an explanation from Air Canada, but did not receive a response as of press time.
Atrill said previous efforts to put pressure on the airline have been unsuccessful.
“There have been conversations with Air Canada over time,” she said. “In my last council term, Air Canada representatives were here, they were at a meeting with the Chamber [of Commerce], so they’ve heard that. It’s not that they don’t know, but I think their planes for the most part fly full… so, they are able to charge that rate and it’s just really a frustrating thing here. At the same time I’m grateful that we have Air Canada coming in here, we need to have a major carrier. I would love it if we were able to have another carrier, so it’s a bit of a dilemma.”