After more than a year of declines because of the weakening Canadian dollar, local airport traffic appears to be flattening out.
Last month 28,452 people took flights out of the Bellingham International Airport, a 1 percent drop compared to a year earlier, according to data collected by the Port of Bellingham. Through the first nine months of this year, 315,318 passengers have flown out of the local airport, down 8.5 percent compared to the same period in 2015.
If airport traffic is starting to stabilize, it is a good sign heading into the winter months, said Sunil Harman, director of aviation at the port. That’s when Alaska Airlines begins its direct seasonal service from Bellingham to Hawaii and Las Vegas. The flights between Bellingham and Kona and Maui begin in November and go into April.
Harman said a marketing campaign for those flights to Hawaii is wrapping up, and bookings are encouraging.
Passenger traffic at the airport has steadily declined along with the weakening Canadian dollar. When the loonie was nearly at par with the U.S. dollar a few years ago, it was estimated that more than half of the passengers were Canadian.
The Canadian dollar remains weak, closing on Friday, Oct. 21, at just under 75 U.S. cents, the lowest in more than six months. With the weaker Canadian dollar, the airlines have relied more on Northwest Washington passengers.
Cross-border vehicle traffic into Whatcom County also remains sluggish. Just over 8.5 million people have crossed the five Whatcom County southbound border crossings in the first eight months of 2016. That’s down nearly 10 percent compared to the same period in 2015.
Adding more flights out of the airport continues to be a goal for port officials. Harman said a number of airlines have expressed interest, but are waiting for the currency exchange rate and the Canadian economy to recover before committing to new service.