Back in the skies

Nick Hays, CEO, WAA. Photo by EDW.

Just five months after the final COVID-19 travel restrictions were removed, passenger activity at Winnipeg Richardson International Airport continues to rise, and we’re optimistic we’ll return to where we once were in 2024.

It’s no secret 2020 and 2021 were rough for Winnipeg Airports Authority as COVID-19 brought air travel to a virtual standstill—our lowest single-day passenger total was on April 11, 2020, about a month into the pandemic, with just 73 people flying out of the terminal—but we’re moving in the right direction.

For example, on the second-last day of 2022, we had our busiest day in nearly three years with more than 12,000 travellers. That pushed our fourth-quarter traffic number to 870,339 and our yearly total to a little more than three million. Those figures are up significantly over 2021, and while we feel that’s a great accomplishment, we can’t lose sight of the fact that we had 4.5 million passengers in 2019.

There was a massive pent-up demand when travel restrictions started to be lifted last year, and Winnipeggers flocked to the airport to connect with loved ones, business colleagues and their favourite places to explore. But the travel industry can’t just flick a switch and return to pre-pandemic days. Various carriers have cancelled routes to cities such as Denver and Chicago, and many employees throughout the system needed to be rehired after finding other jobs during the low points of the pandemic. We’re working to re-establish those routes, but a key stumbling block is the airlines not having enough pilots.

So, we know we have work to do.

There are a lot of metrics, such as employment, GDP and commercial vacancy rates, that tell the tale of the province’s economy. A vibrant airport is another one. Increased traffic at Winnipeg Richardson International Airport means both businesses and casual travellers have more income at their disposal.

We understand how important connectivity is for our province. It’s a key driver for, well, pretty much everything. We’re confident 2023 will be an even better year, with our projections calling for about 3.8 million passengers—about 80 per cent of pre-pandemic levels. We’re expecting to welcome upwards of 12,000 passengers on a number of days during Spring Break, matching our busiest day of the pandemic. And we expect a further bump in traffic in 2024.

We’re committed to rebuilding our route network and delivering for the community more destinations that matter. Adding a direct flight to Los Angeles in October was a big one. It’s a game-changer for the film, music and television industries and really puts our community on the map.

This WestJet flight is the first new major destination for the city in seven years and the first new route to launch since Flair started flying to Kitchener – Waterloo in 2020. We’re optimistic we’ll have further announcements as the year goes on.

The pandemic crystallized how important it is to create connections because we couldn’t travel like we wanted to. The entire team at WAA is laser-focused on continuing to create those connections and being an even bigger economic driver for the community.

But we know we can’t do any of this alone. Only by working together through partnerships and close collaboration will we truly succeed in landing opportunities for Manitoba and, in turn, make our province an even better place to live and work. A bold journey lies ahead of us, and we’re excited to have you all on board.


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