June 3, 2021

Fort St. John airport holds steady, with optimistic outlook for future


North Peace Regional Airport Managing Director Mike Karsseboom. (Photo: Tom Summer)

By Tom Summer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Alaska Highway News

Usual business at the North Peace Regional Airport has been slow to take off this year due to the pandemic, but Mike Karsseboom still has plenty of reasons to smile and keep busy.

The airport saw back-to-back good news this week: first, $8.2 million in federal funding to complete much needed upgrades to Runway 03-21. And second, Central Mountain Air will be increasing summer flights, including connections to Grande Prairie.

Compared to other regional airports, Fort St. John is holding steady with an average of two to three flights a day.

“2021 hasn’t turned out the way we hoped it would, but it’s not bad,” said Karsseboom. “We were hoping for a little bit of a faster recovery, but with the third wave and all the restrictions, it’s slower than anticipated.”

The airport saw 26,109 passengers in the first quarter of this year from January to April, 33% of 2019 passenger numbers. At the same time, aircraft movements hit 7,192 during the same period — the highest since 2017.

Karsseboom expects the airport will be very busy once again once health order restrictions lift and the public is able to enjoy leisure travel again.

Runway upgrades are planned to start mid-July, and the airport also received funding from Transport Canada to replace its emergency backup generator.

CMA’s summer schedule starts June 28, and includes connections to Edmonton, Kamloops, Kelowna, and now Grande Prairie.

“It’s all positive news,” Karsseboom said. “The big thing to maintain those flights is to be able to travel, people have to be able to book those seats and go somewhere.”

He added that provincial funding has been a real boon, with $16.5 million in operational funding for B.C. airports announced in March, including $720,000 for Fort St. John and the North Peace.

“We got really lucky in the province overall, when regional airports were given some operational funding,” said Karsseboom.

“It’s the first province in Canada to actually do anything for airports. It’s one the few operational funding programs out there, a lot of funding program really focus on capital improvements, rather than providing money to operate.”

Karsseboom said a 5G tower is also being planned for potential installation at the airport, through Freedom Mobile.

“It doesn’t change anything for us, it’s strictly for cell service. But it’s a nice open spot,” said Karsseboom.

Two new hangar constructions are also being discussed, with aviation and trucking companies looking to set up shop.

“There’s no shortage of interesting developments, in fact, we’re running low on space. So we’re actually looking to develop on the east side of the airport now,” Karsseboom said. “We’re always looking at opportunities to develop the airport property, but also to expand the airport community.”