Edmonton International Airport sees decline in passenger traffic

Fewer people travelling through Edmonton airport
WATCH ABOVE: The latest numbers show a big pullback when it comes to growth at the Edmonton International Airport. Vinesh Pratap finds out why fewer people are flying.

After several years of continued growth at the Edmonton International Airport, passenger traffic has dropped over the past two years.

In 2016, EIA saw just over 7.5 million passengers come through the doors. That’s a 5.7 per cent drop from 2015, when EIA saw eight million people. In 2014, EIA had a record year with 8.2 million passengers visiting the airport.

READ MORE: 2014 another record year at the Edmonton International Airport

International travel dropped by 9.8 per cent in 2016. Transborder travel – between Canada and the United States – saw the biggest decrease, dropping by 25.4 per cent.

Edmonton Airports said winter holidays to sunny destinations were also down last year.

The drop is mainly due to a decline in international flights and flights to the U.S. People are also choosing not to fly to the U.S. because of the low value of Canada’s dollar. In Alberta, there have been tens of thousands of job losses, which could also be keeping people at home.

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Doug Elliott, who was flying through EIA on Tuesday, travels throughout western Canada and said airports seem quieter throughout the region.

“I’m from Regina, which is a really small airport. This place seems very quiet to me. It’s almost as quiet as Regina so I can see why the economic downturn is probably having an effect.”

Kerri Demetrioff, also travelling through EIA Tuesday, said she doesn’t travel a lot but admits the airport seems slower than during her previous travels.

“My husband works in the oilfield. I’m not surprised at all. At all,” she said. “People still travel if they have places elsewhere but if you don’t have places elsewhere, they kind of stick around.”

In May 2016, United Airlines announced it was suspending daily flights from Edmonton to Chicago and San Francisco, a move EIA blamed on the low Canadian dollar.

READ MORE: 2017 could be a bad year for the Canadian dollar

There is a glimmer of hope, though, as it appears people continue to travel within Canada. Domestic travel at EIA increased two per cent in 2016 compared to 2015.

READ MORE: Record number of foreign tourists fly into Alberta in August: ATB Financial

In January 2016, WestJet suspended several flights out of the EIA, cancelling daily service between Edmonton and Nanaimo and Edmonton and Kamloops.

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WestJet service was also reduced between Edmonton and Abbotsford, Edmonton and Grande Prairie and Edmonton and Calgary. The downturn in Alberta’s economy was to blame for those service changes, WestJet said at the time.

READ MORE: WestJet reduces service out of Edmonton, Calgary due to economic slump

Next door at the Renaissance Edmonton Airport, which opened in 2014, the general manager said they saw a bit of a spike in business in the spring because of the Fort McMurray wildfire, but overall business was about the same in 2016 as it was in 2015.

“We’re having a better year than we thought we would because the airport was predicting numbers to go down and our numbers, we’ve stayed mostly flat,” David Keam said. “Business travel is fantastic in Edmonton. It’s going up, it’s not going down. Leisure travel is a little bit down so we just focus on business travel. We focus on where we can make the money and where people want our service.

“There’s still a lot of disposable income in Edmonton and there are still people who are willing to pay a premium for the convenience of being at the airport and they’re willing to pay for luxury and things like that. That’s our market and we’ve stayed true to it.”

READ MORE: Edmonton and Calgary hotels struggling, but Alberta resorts thriving

Keam, who has worked in the hospitality industry for 20 years, said while this downturn has been “a bit longer and a bit deeper” than previous recessions, he’s predicting a bounce back in 2017.

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“A lot of the fallback that happened is over, so companies are spending money, they’re back in house, conferences are happening again and everything seems to be ramping up again.”

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Passenger traffic at EIA has steadily increased since 2010 when 6.1 million people used the airport. Here’s a look at the annual passenger numbers from 2004 to 2015:

Annual EIA passenger totals from 2004 to 2015.
Annual EIA passenger totals from 2004 to 2015. Credit: EIA

With files from Kendra Slugoski, Global News.