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Business looking up at Trail airport

For the first time in 6 years, Pacific Coastal lands Saab 340B at YZZ

Trail Regional Airport (YZZ) held a “welcome back” on the tarmac earlier this month.

The salutation, however, was to a “what,” not a “whom.”

On Nov. 11, for the first time in six years, Pacific Coastal Airlines landed the Saab 340B.

Good news for travellers because the Saab has a seating capacity of up to 34 versus 19 in the Beechcraft 1900D, the model that has landed at YZZ since November 2017.

Bringing in a larger aircraft harkens back to early fall at the UBCM (annual conference of B.C. municipalities) when two Trail councillors approached Pacific Coastal Airlines with a request on behalf of the city.

“We spoke with the Senior Manager, Business Development, Commercial Services Shawn Warneboldt of Pacific Coastal at the recent UBCM in Vancouver and stressed the importance of the Saab 340 flights to YZZ travellers, because of the additional capacity and the on-board restrooms,” explains Trail Coun. Thea Hanson.

“I was delighted to see the reinstatement of the 340 flights in time for the holidays.”

Coun. Paul Butler was also part of UBCM discussion. He explains that since the new YZZ terminal opened in November six years ago, there hasn’t been a designated council committee or appointment to advocate for the airport, city-owned since 2014.

“The previous airport committee of Trail council was originally created to facilitate the construction of the new airport terminal building in 2017, as well as oversee the rehabilitation and enhancement of the runway,” Butler clarifies.

“That committee was an ad-hoc committee and not a standing committee of council, which operates on a continuing basis. It came to an end in 2018 once those projects were fully completed.”

Butler says council is now considering governance models for YZZ. For example, one scenario includes a board of directors working alongside council appointees and municipal employees knowledgeable of day-to-day operations, in cooperation with Pacific Coastal Airlines.

“The Airport Authority concept is a model we are currently exploring,” Butler continues. “It would ensure that a ridership growth plan and expansion strategy would receive dedicated attention and ongoing oversight.”

It is actually quite a common operating model in the industry, he adds.

“Additionally, YZZ could benefit from the talent and experience of local aviators who may wish to volunteer for a director role on the Trail Airport Authority.”

Passenger fees

Along with bigger aircraft and the city’s oversight consideration comes the welcome news that Trail council has agreed to put a hold on the $16 passenger fee.

“Council unanimously agreed in September 2023 to hold passenger fees at $16 well into 2025 which creates a stable pricing point for both the consumer and the operator,” notes Hanson.

“Some airports in B.C. charge close to $25 in passenger fees, so keeping Trail’s rate at $16 is well within the industry norm.”

YZZ operations

Last year, the city hired Enrico Moehrle to manage YZZ.

Moehrle had been working as an Airport Operations Specialist at the Trail airport since October 2021, bringing over 25 years of experience in aviation maintenance and airport operations with the Royal Canadian Air Force.

He provided the Times with some background of flights in and out of YZZ, including statistics that show the Trail airport is bouncing back to near pre-pandemic levels of business.

In 2019, the passenger count was 18,643. Not quite the height of the best year — 2013 — when stats show 24, 643 passengers landed at YZZ.

Unforeseen was the 2020 pandemic which grounded flights, and only 6,740 passengers landed in Trail that year.

Business began to rebound in 2021 with a passenger count of 10,353 followed by 15,588 last year.

Moehrle says the projected passenger count for 2023 is around 19,000.

“Prior to COVID, Pacific Coastal Airlines generally operated two daily flights and, at times, three daily flights,” Moehrle told the Times.

COVID created a pause in flights from April 2020 to May 2020, after which the airline resumed one daily flight to Trail.

More flights were gradually added until April 2022 when the carrier resumed two daily flights, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.

Moerhle says the current schedule has one Saab flight Saturday mornings until Dec 16. After Dec. 16, two Beechcraft flights will resume on Saturdays.

The long term schedule has the larger Saab returning in April 2024, where it will replace the Sunday through Friday afternoon Beechcraft flights. That means more passenger seats will be available.

“As our Saab aircraft are currently being dispatched on other routes within our network we only have availability to operate our Saab aircraft to Trail on Saturdays,” Johnathan Richardson, vice president, customer and commercial, Pacific Coastal Airlines, told the Times.

“We most recently dispatched a Saab 340 B model aircraft that accommodates 34 passengers and future flights will also be dispatched on our Saab 340 B aircraft.”

YZZ has a budget nearing $640,000, which passenger fees help offset.

With the trajectory being a 19,000 passenger count in 2023, collective fees of roughly $304,000 cover almost half the budget.

“Enrico has worked very hard on improving the airport operations and working with Pacific Coastal to improve the flight service for our community,” Colin McClure, Trail chief administrator, adds.

“And we are seeing the positive effects of that.”

Trail Regional Airport employs one manager, one full-time airport maintenance technician and two part-time airport operations specialists.

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Sheri Regnier

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