PRINCE RUPERT, B.C. -- Airports in Northwest B.C. are both struggling and relatively optimistic about their future, as the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions is expected to bring an increase in air travel moving forward.

“Once restrictions have been lifted, we’re expecting substantial growth,” said Northwest Regional Airport (YXT) manager Carman Hendry.

"There’s a lot of people out there that are just itching to go on a trip and get out of town for a bit for a change.”

Hendry says the airport has been "keeping its head above water" over the past few months. Monthly passenger numbers at YXT are significantly lower than what they were post-pandemic.

In the first five months of 2021, the airport has seen monthly passenger totals between just above 7,000 to over 8,700. In May 2021, 7995 passengers boarded a XYT flight.

In contrast, monthly passenger totals in 2019 were higher than 24,500 per month on average.

Hendry says much of the current travel through the Northwest Regional Airport is for business or medical purposes. He estimates 20 per cent of current YXT passengers are a part of the LNG Canada project in Kitimat, while another 20 per cent are connected to mining projects up North.

Additionally, he says less than 10 per cent is for discretionary travel, while the remaining YXT travellers are flying for medical or essential purposes.

"There isn't a lot of people that are travelling just for the fun of it with the restrictions that have been put on."

B.C. entered "Step 2" of its reopening process on Tuesday, June 15th. Recreational travel within B.C. is now permitted, but various other restrictions – such as limits on indoor gatherings in private residences – remain in place.

Further west, the Prince Rupert Regional Airport is looking forward to the return of Air Canada flights starting this Friday. Earlier this year, the airline service suspended flights to and from Prince Rupert – along with several other small Canadian airports – as a cutback measure to limit financial losses.

"We're getting ready for folks to come back here starting on Friday, and we're definitely looking forward to it," said airport manager Rick Leach.

"We just hope that the bookings can get back to where they were before."

Starting Friday, the Prince Rupert airport will offer three flights a week. Full daily service will return on August 1st.

However, both Leach and Hendry are predicting that it will be a long time before passenger numbers at both airports will reach pre-pandemic levels.

“When COVID finally leaves this world to the best of its ability, I think then we’ll see the full brunt of travel back," said Leach.