Travel takes off at Windsor airport

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Windsor Star/Carolyn Thompson

Sometimes you can walk through the parking lot of Windsor International Airport and see a sea of Michigan licence plates.

A low Canadian dollar, more flight destinations and a stress-free environment have nearly tripled the number of passengers at the small airport over the past five years.

One couple even came all the way from Tennessee to save $500 each on a flight to Europe, said Jim McCormack, director of finance for the airport and a former publisher at The Star.

In 2014, the airport showed a $2.3-million profit — a sharp increase from its nearly $800,000 in losses in 2010 and 2011.

The final numbers for 2015 aren’t yet available, but McCormack said the third-quarter results showed a profit of about $1.8 million, in line with last year’s record numbers.

“Leaving from Windsor is a breeze,” said Olivia Donnelly, who regularly visits her family in Detroit. “You don’t have to worry about long lineups. There are only about four gates.”

Donnelly and her husband Ty are newlyweds who met in Montreal and live there. She is pregnant and plans to give birth in the U.S., requiring frequent visits — all through Windsor Airport.

“One, it’s cheaper. Two, it’s easier. And three, it’s a better environment because it’s so small,” she said.

Direct flights from Windsor go to both Toronto airports year-round and twice a week to Orlando, as well as seasonal winter flights to the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Mexico. In the summer and fall, it offers direct flights to Calgary.

“The airport today is light-years ahead of where we used to be,” said Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens, who sits on the YQG board.

For the second year in a row, the board has approved a $1-million dividend to be paid to the city. It replaces a $27,000 subsidy the city had been paying in recent years.

Wednesday afternoon, Jen Stanley parked her car in the empty short-term lot. She helped her friend Whitney Goulet unload her baby Grace. Stanley dragged their luggage into the airport and straight up to the check-in counter.

Stanley drove two hours from Corunna, a town of 4,000 near Sarnia, to drop her friend off for a flight back to Timmins.

“There’s no traffic. I didn’t have to worry about any delays,” she said. “I wasn’t nervous coming into the parking lot.

“This airport is a lot less intimidating than Toronto.”

In December, the airport announced the addition of Air Transat flights to Punta Cana and National Airlines flights to Orlando. Last year, Sunwing also expanded its flights, adding Cancun as a destination.

Chris Nantau, a sales director for Accudyne Industries who flies through Windsor nearly every week, said he would like to see more direct flights to Calgary and Edmonton.

“It’s just more convenient,” he said.

Success breeds success, Dilkens said.

“We’re going to continue to attract new airlines,” he said, adding it took nearly 18 months to secure National Airlines. Eventually, he anticipates more terminal growth.

During the summer, Toronto’s Pearson airport staff visited every Southwestern Ontario airport. McCormack said by 2030, that airport will likely have reached its capacity.

“They’re looking for ways to partner with other airports so that they can get other stuff out that other people could do,” McCormack said. “We would like to take the cargo, but the more likely thing is that Hamilton would get it.”

He said there is a chance Windsor could tap into airplane maintenance work, such as that being done by Premier Aviation, if Pearson decides to transfer some of that off-site. McCormack said Windsor would likely be competing with London and Hamilton for that work, but it’s a possibility for future expansion.

“These are things that we’re looking at, but it’s quite a ways down the road,” he said.