A plane passes over downtown Sidney, shrouded in smoke from wildfires in the United States, on its way toward Victoria International Airport Tuesday morning. A spokesperson for the airport said Wednesday that the smoke has not impacted flight service, unlike in the United States. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

Planes still flying in and out of Victoria International Airport despite wildfire smoke

Passenger numbers down drastically due to COVID-19

A spokesperson for the Victoria International Airport said smoke from wildfires lingering across the region has not impacted service.

“There hasn’t been any impact, there haven’t been any delays,” said Rod Hunchak, community relations director, business development at Victoria International Airport.

“I guess we should be grateful that the smoke hasn’t compounded issues here,” he added. “Right now, we are doing what we can in assisting carriers with their flights. Thank goodness it hasn’t added to date any additional hardships or burden to the flight operation.”

He made these comments while smoke from wildfires in California, Oregon and Washington State continue to blanket the larger Pacific Northwest region, prompting Alaska Airlines to temporarily suspend all flights in and out of Portland International Airport (PDX) and Spokane International Airport (GEG) due to the smoke earlier this week. Service has since resumed.

Hunchak added that the question of possible service suspension lies within the hands of Nav Canada in conjunction with the airlines.

“It’s not a call we make,” he said. “There is equipment that determines visibility and that really is part of the processes Nav Canada [uses in] determining whether or not they are going to allow aircrafts to operate.”

RELATED: Wildfire smoke lingers over Greater Victoria

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RELATED Washington wildfires likely cause for Greater Victoria’s smoke-filled skies

Looking more broadly, 2020 continues to be an “unprecedented” one for the airport against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to massive drops in total passengers, air cargo and aircraft movements through the airport.

Consider July, compared to July 2019, total passengers numbers are down 81.5 per cent, with air cargo down 31.7 per cent. Total aircraft movements dropped 16.8 per cent.

Compared to the period of January through July 2019, total passenger numbers dropped 63.9 per cent, with air cargo down 30.8 per cent. Total aircraft movements dropped 30.8 per cent.

Notably, these figures mark an improvement to the figures during the height of pandemic measures. In April, for example, the total number of passengers travelling through the airport dropped almost 98 per cent compared to the same month in 2019.

RELATED: Pandemic nearly grounds passenger count at Victoria International Airport

Looking ahead, it is far too early to say how numbers might shake out over the rest of the year. Passenger numbers “might be down in a range between 60 to 75 per cent,” said Hunchak. “We are monitoring. Just like every other airport, the situation changes month to month. We are just doing the best we can, using the information and watching traffic patterns. The trend in the last couple of months is going up and we hope that they [passenger numbers] continue in that direction.”

The Peninsula News Review has reached out to Nav Canada for comment and will update this story accordingly.


Do you have a story tip? Email: vnc.editorial@blackpress.ca.

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wolfgang.depner@peninsulanewsreview.com

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