Northern Economist 2.0

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Thunder Bay Airport Flying Higher

Thunder Bay Airport (YQT) has seen another year of growth hitting an all-time high for passenger numbers in 2016 by exceeding 800,000 passengers for the first time – 807,041 passengers to be exact.  Some of the recent growth has come from the depreciation in the Canadian dollar relative to the US dollar, which has attracted Americans away from airports in Duluth and Minneapolis.  This is certainly a welcome development given that market size in northwestern Ontario is relatively stable given population trends. This is also a regional success story and according to the Thunder Bay International Airport Authority’s (TBIAA) own estimates generates an estimated $645 million dollars in GDP annually and creates 5000 jobs. 

And of course, one does not need an economic impact study to see the importance of better air connections to Toronto with three airlines now competing for your business and offering on weekdays a total of 16 flights daily (Air Canada-6; Porter – 6; Westjet – 4).  When one adds seasonal flights to tropical destinations as well as assorted regional airlines like Wasaya and Bearskin, It is indeed a golden age for air travel out of Thunder Bay.

Figure 1 plots the total number of passengers out of Thunder Bay airport and they show an increase from 503,428 in 1997 to 807,041 in 2016 – an increase of 60 percent.  The average annual growth rate of passenger volume over this period has been 2.6 percent but there have been some fluctuations as Figure 2 illustrates.   

The years 2002, 2005 and 2008 saw large dips in the growth rate as a result of the forest sector crisis and the onset of the Great Recession.  There was a substantial rebound starting in 2009 but 2014 and 2015 also witnessed a flattening out of growth.  As a result, the increase of 4.5 percent in 2016 is certainly quite welcome and hopefully represents the start of a new growth curve similar to what occurred after 2009.  If this new phase of growth is being based on American travelers out of Minnesota taking advantage of a stronger US dollar then the exchange rate as well as border crossing issues will be crucial variables.