Big changes are coming to Saint John Airport this spring, with an expanded departure lounge, new dining options, and the arrival of bigger planes and a new airline.
Swoop, WestJet's ultra low-cost airline, will begin flying into Saint John in May, with the first flight arriving on Thursday, May 12.
And both Swoop and Flair Airlines, which already flies into Saint John three times a week, will begin flying 190-passenger 737 jets into Saint John. Currently, flights into and out of Saint John typically accommodate about 50 to 80 passengers.
Airport president and CEO Sandy Ross says the surge in passenger traffic means the departure lounge has to grow, and fast.
"We're actually in the process now," he said in an interview Wednesday, noting the lounge will almost double in size to nearly 5,000 square feet from the current 3,000.
"We've only been able to seat about 140 people in that space up until recently," Ross said.
"But now we have larger aircraft coming and more frequently, so we need to get that space increased so we can handle more people more effectively and more comfortably."
The expansion, which will allow the lounge to accommodate 300 people, will involve "moving into some dead space" that currently surrounds the area, reorienting ticket desks, and expanding the walls out on the entire departure area, Ross said.
Post check-in dining area in the works
Plans to add a dining area inside the departure lounge – which were ready to go but then shelved by the pandemic – are also "back on the table."
"We're just working out the details now with Transport Canada," Ross said. "It should be in place when we're done with construction ... literally on Day One."
Construction is set to begin in about a week and is expected to be completed in about 12 weeks, he said.
More destinations on the radar
So will bigger jets mean more destinations?
That, too, is on the table, Ross said.
Currently, Flair and Air Canada fly from Saint John to Toronto's Pearson International Airport, and in May, Swoop will also fly that route.
As of June 8, Flair will begin flying from Saint John to Kitchener's Region of Waterloo International Airport, Ross said.
"We're looking at other destinations with both those providers, [with] hopefully some more announcements a little later in the year," he said.
Ross also addressed a regulatory review of Flair Airlines, centred around questions about what percentage of it is "foreign-owned," that is currently underway.
In a preliminary determination last month, the Canadian Transport Agency found Flair may not be "controlled in fact" by Canadians, which would contravene federal law, because Miami-based investor 777 Partners holds a "dominant" influence over the airline.
The Canada Transportation Act also states that no one foreign player can own more than a quarter of the carrier or exert effective control over it.
Flair has since amended the unanimous shareholders agreement, which investors ratified, Jones said at last week's conference.
Ross said Wednesday he has "100 per cent" confidence that Flair is here to stay.
"We've had good discussions with Flair about what Transport Canada had identified as issues that they needed to remedy," he said.
"Flair has come forward with some definitive statements about what it is they will be doing ... to get those matters resolved, and we're fully supportive of their effort. And I'm completely confident that Flair will be continuing to fly well into the future."