The Canadian Rockies International Airport is receiving $720,000 from the government to sustain operations throughout the pandemic. Google StreetView photo.

Cranbrook airport continues to weather pandemic challenges

While COVID-19 has devastating impacts on air travel, the Canadian Rockies International Airport has tightened operations and projects to run at a profit for 2022.

But it hasn’t been easy, according to Tristen Chernove, the CEO of Elevate Airports, which operates the regional airport facility.

Chernove updated city council on airport budgetary and operational projects for the coming year during a special meeting last week.

He credited the efforts of his team and his personal experiences preparing and training as an elite paracycling athlete for getting through last year’s pandemic challenges.

“I will certainly say I pay a great deal of gratitude to a life of endurance athletics training, building mental strength, that has been put to the test through this period working in the air travel industry,” Chernove said. “My mental fatigue has become significant at times and I’ve called on all that training to get me through to this point.”

In 2021, the Canadian Rockies International Airport (YXC) narrowly under-performed North American and global averages at 30 per cent of pre-pandemic passengers, however, projections on domestic market recovery is expected to slightly outpace national forecast, according to Chernove

In 2022, a moderate recovery is projected, growing from 40 per cent of pre-pandemic passenger numbers to 62 per cent by year end, if various factors continue to hold. With the continuation of all carriers, YXC is expected to see an estimated 94,097 passengers, which compares to annual numbers experienced during normal non-pandemic times roughly a dozen years ago, Chernove said.

“Nationally, we’re doing a little bit better than the Canadian average, but we’re talking within a couple per cent,” said Chernove. “That’s on the passenger numbers of travel. As far as our financial sustainability, we are an exception. We are doing very well considering how low the passenger numbers are.”

Air carriers like WestJet or Air Canada do not have passenger service contracts with YXC — air carriers make their own business decisions whether or not to provide service to a particular airport or region, said Chernove.

“They’re going to be driven by business demand, and we’re going to support those decisions but make sure they have all of the information relevant as to why we’re relevant within the network. So far I have quite a bit of reason to have strong confidence … for an airport of our size, we get fantastic attention from the carriers and fantastic service.”

Right now there are approximately seven scheduled flights a day in and out of YXC, which contrasts to as many as 22 in non-pandemic times, Chernove said.

In terms of financials, operating revenues project to $1.95 million, including $332,000 in grants from provincial and federal governments, while operating expenses project to approximately $1.69 million.

For capital projects last year, the airport completed a major upgrade to the facility’s HVAC system, and a condition assessment of the airfield lighting system ahead of a planned replacement this year, among others.

The 2022 capital project budget is forecasted at $3.8 million, with projects that includes replacing airfield lighting, cabling, transformers and airside guidance signs, while also replacing a dump truck as part of a carry forward project.