Deer Lake airport expects to have its busiest summer since before the pandemic

Tammy Priddle is the CEO of the Deer Lake Airport Authority. (Colleen Connors/CBC - image credit)
Tammy Priddle is the CEO of the Deer Lake Airport Authority. (Colleen Connors/CBC - image credit)
Tammy Priddle is the CEO of the Deer Lake Airport Authority.
Tammy Priddle is the CEO of the Deer Lake Airport Authority.

Tammy Priddle, CEO of the Deer Lake Regional Airport, says she expects the airport expects passenger traffic to return to pre-pandemic levels this year. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

It's almost tourism season in Newfoundland and Labrador, and the Deer Lake Regional Airport is set for passenger traffic to return to pre-pandemic levels.

That's because of WestJet's return to the airport, with new flights to Toronto and Calgary, says airport CEO Tammy Priddle.

WestJet left the airport last year but continued some routes through its affiliate company Swoop, which has since merged with WestJet.

Priddle says she expects the airport to reach the same number of passengers this year as in 2019, before the pandemic curtailed air travel.

In 2019, the last full year before the pandemic, 324,516 passengers flew into the Deer Lake airport. In 2023, the airport saw almost that many passengers — 298,656, despite having only 80 per cent of the capacity — seats on planes flying into the airport, whether they're filled or not — as it had in 2019.

Priddle says airlines are now using larger aircraft, and she estimates the airport will have 20 per cent more seat capacity than it did in 2019, making them optimistic they'll return to pre-pandemic passenger levels.

"It certainly has been a lot of work to make that happen," she said. "[It's] very important for the region."

Priddle said she looks forward to introducing more options and competition - as air access to the province has been challenging.

More routes

This will be the first time Deer Lake will have a connection to Alberta.

Priddle says there's a lot of demand in the region for flights to western Canada, which is what prompted WestJet to add the routes.

"It became obvious that there was an opportunity there, I think, for another airline to be on that market," said Priddle.

The airport also has flights available through Air Canada and Flair Airlines.

The Deer Lake airport was the first to offer the ultra-low-cost carrier Flair in Newfoundland, and the airline returned this summer with direct flights to Kitchener-Waterloo, Ont.

Priddle says she was surprised to find out that there is a population of Newfoundlanders in Kitchener-Waterloo, which is the reason for Flair's success in Deer Lake.

Porter Airlines will also introduce a new direct flight from Deer Lake to Halifax starting on June 4.

Growing capacity

Priddle says some challenges have come with building capacity. The airport will need to manage more passengers, which has caused space issues in the "hold room," the area where passengers wait before departure, she said.

As growth continues, Priddle said, there may be changes to the airport's infrastructure.

"It doesn't come without growing pains, but we are preparing for that," said Priddle.

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