Customer service team at Nanaimo Airport eases travel stress

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The friendly customer service team at Nanaimo Airport devotes each day to one goal: making the travel experience comfortable.

It’s a big job. Hundreds of thousands of passengers go through the airport gates every year. And that means thousands of requests for assistance, from parking and airport information to tourism suggestions to finding lost credit cards. This year has been especially busy, as the team works diligently to fulfill the airport’s commitment to customer service during expansion-related construction.

“Our goal is to provide a positive, stress-free experience for passengers and visitors in a safe, secure and friendly environment,” explains Customer Care Advisor Laurie Hawthornthwaite.

She oversees a team of three customer service representatives: Tiffany Braun, Char Blois and Mike Anderson. She also supervises 37 Blue Navigator Ambassadors, the blue-vested volunteers who have provided almost 25,000 hours of service since June 2012.

The team is onsite 4:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. seven days a week. It’s rewarding work, they say. “I love when I can help take some of the stress out of travel,” says Braun.

And team members have many happy stories to share.

“My favourite time,” recalls Blue Navigators volunteer Tricia Barnes, “was when I realized that a lady with a fair amount of luggage was chatting amiably with a few folks and had not realized that her plane was within minutes of taking off! I rushed over and assisted her. She was escorted very quickly through Security and on to her plane on route to Europe.”

Passenger feedback attests to the friendly service people receive at Nanaimo Airport.

“Just wanted to let you know how much we enjoyed visiting with the Blue Navigators volunteer,” one airport user wrote. “He made us feel welcome and visited like he was an old friend. My daughter was particularly taken with his incredible sense of humour. Thanks for all you do to make vacations special — even the airport experience.”

Why Nanaimo Airport is your Best Travel Choice

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Thinking of heading to the sun to escape our long winter? Starting your trip at Nanaimo Airport can get things off to a flying start. Here’s why it makes sense to use the Central Island’s airport of choice.

  1. It’s your gateway to the world

Thanks to hundreds of connecting flights available through Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto, travelers can easily leave Nanaimo in the morning and be on a beach for sunset. Mexico, Hawaii, and Florida are just some of the sun destinations within easy reach.

  1. It saves money

Those flight “deals” out of large airports can be pretty costly. Travelers using another airport take a hit to the wallet due to costs for gas, ferry fare and often a night in a hotel. Nanaimo Airport passengers don’t pay those additional hidden costs.

  1. It’s hassle-free

Large, impersonal airports often mean long lineups and jockeying with thousands of other travelers, both for arrivals and departures. And when passengers return tired after a long trip, they’re still hours from home.

At Nanaimo Airport, travelers get fast service with a personal touch. The air terminal’s compact and well-designed layout puts everything within a few steps of the front door. The Blue Navigator  Ambassadors help with any questions. Efficient security and baggage screening means less time spent in lineups and more time spent relaxing. Luggage can usually be picked up within minutes.

  1. It’s convenient

The airport is within an easy drive of all central Island communities. Flying out of Nanaimo lets passengers avoid ferry lineups or sailing waits. They can sleep in their own beds the night before a flight.

  1. It’s dependable

Travelers booking flights at Nanaimo Airport can count on getting where they want to go. The airport’s weather reliability rating of approximately 98 per cent means nearly all scheduled flights take off and land.

Extreme weather, of course, can impact flights at any airport, and seaplanes too. Even ferry travel is at the mercy of Mother Nature.


Nanaimo FSS handling major traffic growth as region thrives

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Nanaimo FSS handling major traffic growth as region thrives

Nanaimo has much more going for it than magnificent scenery and a creamy, chocolaty treat that bears its name. It also has one of the mildest climates in Canada, a diversified economy and a vibrant cultural scene.

“We even have a rush hour now, a sure sign of progress,” laughs Jim Honeyman, Site Manager, Nanaimo, Campbell River and Port Hardy Flight Service Stations. Born and raised in B.C., Jim started out as a Flight Service Specialist at Vancouver FSS 40 years ago and has lived in Nanaimo for the past 25 years.

Many of the Flight Service Specialists in Nanaimo are also long-service employees, and came to the post in a seniority bid process. All consider themselves fortunate to have ended up living and working in such a desirable area.

Centrally located transportation hub

Centrally located on Vancouver Island, set between ocean and mountains, Nanaimo is easily accessible by land, sea or air. It’s a gateway to popular ecotourism destinations like Tofino, Ucluelet and Pacific Rim National Park; the fishing meccas of Port Alberni and Campbell River; and the beachside communities of Parksville and Qualicum Beach. Victoria is an hour-and-ahalf drive along Highway 1 and Vancouver is a short ferry ride away, across the Strait of Georgia.

Airport a growth engine

Nanaimo Airport (YCD) – a 10-minute drive south of downtown – is ideally situated as the most convenient departure/arrival point for customers from the mid-island area. It offers multiple flights per day, with direct access to Vancouver, Victoria, Abbotsford, Calgary and Seattle.

The airport’s service area extends north to Qualicum, west to the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District, and south to Duncan and the Cowichan Valley – representing a population base of about 250,000.

An important engine of growth for the region, the airport itself has been growing at a steady clip. Passenger counts have climbed more than 70 per cent since 2008. This year, 300,000 passengers are expected to pass through the airport – five years earlier than projected. Aircraft movements have increased on average between five to eight per cent over the past five years, and now stand at about 40,000 per year, Jim Honeyman estimates.

A new, fully operational fuel supplier on site will allow the airport to continue to grow by having the ability to refuel aircraft that have longer ranges. Today the service allows non-stop flights to Calgary, but in future it could help attract carriers offering flights to the Pacific Northwest, eastern Canada or even a sun destination like Hawaii, according to a Nanaimo Airport press release.

Meanwhile, there are plans afoot to expand the terminal building, taxiway and apron, because the airport is at capacity during peak times.

Mike Bechtel, Team Supervisor

FSS serves Nanaimo and Tofino airports

The NAV CANADA Flight Service Station, to the right of the terminal building, is operated by seven Flight Service Specialists, one Team Supervisor and the Site Manager. Services provided to pilots include airport advisory, vehicle control, surface weather observations, flight information and emergency alerting. In addition to serving Nanaimo Airport, the Flight Service Specialists also provide remote aerodrome advisory service (RAAS) for Tofino, which sees 10,000 air traffic movements a year. It is particularly busy in the summer months, with tourism charters and scheduled IFR flights. Located in a rainforest, Tofino has a lot of low cloud, rain and fog. Even in the summer months, the airport is often under IFR conditions.

The Nanaimo Flight Service Specialists work on a six-shifts-on, three-shifts-off rotation. Each eight hour shift has two specialists in the cab – one working Nanaimo and the other the Tofino RAAS.

Willie Patterson, Jim Honeyman (standing) and Larry Vainio in the Nanaimo FSS cab.

Balancing act

Nanaimo falls within southwestern B.C. airspace, which is the most complex in Canada for its proximity to mountains, ocean and the U.S. border. The airport is just 28 miles west of Vancouver. South/southwest of the airport, terrain rises rapidly, with Mount Hayes (1,482 feet) a short distance away.

With planes taking off and landing on the one, 6,602-foot runway, a fair amount of coordination is required. “We work closely with the Vancouver Area Control Centre, particularly with Victoria Terminal, and our Tofino IFR responsibility has migrated from Vancouver West to the Airports Specialty,” said Mike Bechtel, Team Supervisor. (Mike transferred to Nanaimo six years ago from Red Deer FSS, and will be retiring this year.)

“We have to anticipate the arrivals and departures of our larger commercial operators. With the IFR approach oriented to Runway16 only, we work to ensure that we can accommodate the arrivals and departures with traffic that may already be established in the circuit,” says Mike.

“There is also a very active water aerodrome just north of our zone at Nanaimo Harbour. We are not normally in contact with the float aircraft operating there, but they can have an impact on aircraft using our IFR approach from the north.” The mix of commercial and private aircraft at Nanaimo is about 30 per cent IFR and 70 per cent VFR.

Fixed wing aircraft are mixed in with float planes and helicopters, all flying at different speeds. In addition, a Cadet Glider program operates on weekends in the spring and fall. Nanaimo gets a fair share of training flights too. When Abbotsford, Victoria and Vancouver airspace is congested – as is often the case – training flights are sent into the Nanaimo sector to practice arrivals and departures, frequency switches (these change multiple times between Vancouver and Nanaimo) and different approaches (ILS, NDB, RNAV). Nanaimo is also a well-known destination for pilot cross-country training.

Just off the tip of the peninsula in Washington State, is the USAF general surveillance radar at Neah Bay. The FSS must notify NORAD of any non-authorized traffic that strays into the designated Western Air Defense Sector, and they then send their fighter jets to investigate.

Close to 100 general aviation aircraft call the Nanaimo Airport home. One of them – a L17-A Navion that flew in the Korean War – belongs to Willie Patterson, Flight Service Specialist. Willie performs close formation flying at smaller airshows as part of the Fraser Blues team, which includes two former Snowbirds pilots.

“On a sunny day, everybody wants to get up there and fly,” says Willie.


The biggest operational challenges for the Flight Service Specialists are the speed at which things can happen, due to the airspace responsibilities, and the different types of airspace close to Nanaimo, says Mike. There is a frequent use of holds in the Nanaimo sector due to training, traffic volume and the terrain complexities. “Working with the mix of flight activities that take place at both of our airports is a challenge as well,” adds Willie. “It can be quite the dance.”

In 2009, a new ILS was installed, improving the reliability of the aircraft approach. New high-intensity approach lighting and runway edge lighting also improves visibility under foggy conditions. Approach limits went from 650 feet plus two miles to 250 feet plus one mile, allowing for more flights to come in. “The most challenging weather condition for us is fog,” says Willie.

“November to March, is when we’re more likely to the ‘403 syndrome’ feet of overcast and three miles visibility.” Fortunately, new technologies have resulted in fewer administrative duties the Flight Service Specialists.

“We went stripless two years ago,” explains Willie. “We had ‘EXCEDS light’ already, but during the Olympics, all of our IFR/VFR strips were migrated to EXCDS. We worked with the DSC in Vancouver to come up with the full EXCDS adaptation for our site. It simplifies communication processes with the ACC and cuts back on 80 to 90 per cent of the voice calls we used to make. There are fewer distractions, so we can be more attentive to traffic.”

Leisure pursuits

Some of the FSS staff live in Nanaimo and others in one of the neighboring communities. Outside of work, there is much to enjoy, including a people-friendly downtown core, great public outdoor spaces, walking and hiking trails, excellent fishing and sailing opportunities, music and arts festivals of all kinds, professional live theatre, public markets, British-style pubs and numerous other wining and dining options.

Each of the FSS staff has his or her own leisure pursuits and community connections. When he’s not flying, Willie Patterson belongs to a pipe band that performs internationally. Rick Rae’s nature photographs have appeared in major photography magazines. Ruth Beilman and Edith Yaworski are members of a ladies’ golf league. Mike Bechtel loves to travel and just returned from New Zealand. Larry Vainio and Rod Lomas are kept busy with their young families. And just about everyone likes to garden. With paradise at your door step, it’s a safe bet that many of the senior Nanaimo FSS staff will be staying put once they retire. Why go anywhere else?

Technical Operations, Engineering oversee ATC systems across region

CNS Technologist Ken Marianix in the Nanaimo FSS equipment room.

The Nanaimo FSS is maintained by the following Technical Operations staff, working out of the Victoria Maintenance Centre:

  • Derek Stewart, Team Supervisor
  • Ken Marianix, CNS Technologist
  • David Wang, CNS Technologist

Occasionally, they call on back-up support from the Campbell River Maintenance Centre, namely:

  • Tom Missio, Team Supervisor
  • Neil McCreath, CNS Technologist

Earlier this year, Engineering installed Radio Telecom Interface Multiplexer (RTIM) equipment at Nanaimo, on which Technical Operations conducted the usual proof of performance testing. Also planned is the replacement of the Multipurpose Information Display System (MIDS), which was installed in 1980s, with the EXCDS Weather Data Element (WDE).

Nanaimo FSS

Technologists from the Victoria Work Centre visit Nanaimo quarterly to perform preventive maintenance on the standard equipment installed there, such as:

  • Park Air radios;
  • Nican radios;
  • Voice switch;
  • Voice recorder;
  • IIDS computers;
  • Digital network equipment;
  • Weather equipment;
  • Instrument Landing System;
  • Non directional beacon; and
  • The CATSA (Canadian Air Transport Security Authority) security screening equipment in the terminal building.

The quarterly maintenance visits usually involve a one-week stay in Nanaimo. In addition to Nanaimo, the Technologists also have responsibility for sites in Victoria, Tofino, Ucluelet, locations on Saltspring Island, and a navaid on Mayne Island.


Aircraft Movements: Between Feb. 2014 and Feb. 2015 the combined movements for both Nanaimo and Tofino were approximately 50,000 (roughly 40,000 for Nanaimo and 10,000 for Tofino).

FSS Hours of operation: 5:30 a.m to 9:30 p.m. Outside of FSS hours, aircraft requiring IFR clearance to depart or approval for special VFR will contact Victoria Terminal.

Runways: YCD is classified as a 3-C airport for the purpose of infrastructure development and planning. Runway 16/34 is 6,602’ x 150’ and is equipped with high-intensity runway edge lighting and approach lights leading to the threshold of runway 16. Runway 16 is certified as non-precision with published RNAV and NDB approaches. As well, ILS and Localizer restricted approaches are published in the Restricted Canada Air Pilot (RCAP). Runway 34 is certified as non-instrument and has no approach lights.

Commercial customers

  • Air Canada (DH-8 service to Vancouver and Calgary)
  • WestJet (Q400 service to Calgary)
  • Island Express (PA31 service to Abbotsford, Victoria and Vancouver)
  • Kenmore Air (PA31/C208 service to Seattle)
  • FedEx (cargo carrier)
  • Orca Airways (cargo carrier)

Airport Supports Businesses and Jobs

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Nanaimo Airport is renowned for supporting local businesses and creating jobs, as well as connecting the central Island to the rest of the world .

But it’s also becoming known as something else that’s vitally important to our communities: a thriving business centre.

Your airport has grown into a workplace that supports more than 1,300 direct and indirect jobs. Within the next five years, that number is projected to hit over 2,000 jobs.

Right now, airport operations provide an economic contribution of almost $100 million to the region. The total includes wages paid by the many businesses that call Nanaimo Airport home, plus the goods and services they purchase, largely from local suppliers.

We’re very much like a mall, in that we provide the space and our business partners employ their own staff. All of the firms here bring a commitment to serving the needs of our customers.

They also have another thing in common: they’ve prospered during the unprecedented growth the airport has experienced in recent years. FedEx and Enex Aviation Services, for example, both expanded their operations in 2014 to keep up with surging demand.

Our partners run the gamut from large organizations — such as Air Canada and WestJet, which fly hundreds of thousands of passengers every year — to small businesses, such as Connections Cafe, which provides food service in the terminal for all passengers.

We work with charter flight operators, couriers and freight shippers, three car rental agencies, ground transportation firms, and a flying school that opened in 1990.

But it’s not just businesses that make their home at your airport.

We’re also proud to be the base for several community groups that enrich our Island.

The Nanaimo Flying Club, the 205 Collishaw Nanaimo Squadron of Air Cadets, and the local branch of Civil Air Search and Rescue Association (CASARA).

As a good neighbour, airport emphasizes cooperation

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We want to be a good neighbour because when neighbours work together, good things can happen.

That’s why Nanaimo Airport remains committed to being a good neighbour in the nearby communities. Our noise mitigation program is a great example of the difference community involvement can make.

The program looks at ways to reduce or avoid aircraft noise disturbance where possible. The Airport has always worked with neighbours and over the years have implemented several suggestions from neighbours including:

  • Pilot reminder signage at access gates regarding noise mitigation.
  • Adjustments to the schedules and flight paths for glider tow planes.
  • Requests to the chief pilot of scheduled air carriers about possible flight path changes.

A key component of the ongoing efforts is to host a noise mitigation roundtable, which brings together impacted residents, pilot representatives, Nav Canada (the civil air navigation service provider) and airport staff. It’s goal is to better understand the issues, and work towards solutions where possible. And those issues can be complex.

The airport facilitates commercial, industrial and recreational activities. In addition to flying passengers and cargo, our operations support critical services such as medical supply delivery and medical transportation.

The challenge for our community is to manage concerns about aircraft noise while balancing the region’s need for safe, convenient air travel.

Recent changes in international safety protocol related to flight stabilization, have generated additional noise for some neighbours. Until last year most schedule air carriers were required to be “stable” at 500 feet, which includes putting down their landing gear and flaps. However based on the June 2014 recommendation of National Transportation Safety Board, Air Carriers have changed their safety procedures to ensure they are “stable” at 1,000 feet.

This means that there is an increase in the noise levels, due to the landing gear being deployed sooner on the flight path. The change in safety procedures has affected some of the area’s neighbours who reside in the flight path.

Since this item was brought forward in June, the Nanaimo Airport has been meeting with several of the impacted neighbours and the air carrier to discuss the situation and seek solutions.

Although the source of some noise concerns are related to aircraft flying through the region from different airports or water aerodromes, the Nanaimo Airport always welcomes noise inquiries from residents. A dedicated noise inquiry email has been set up which is “”, or please call 250-245-2157 ext 315 to discuss your concerns further.

Travel questions? Nanaimo Airport has answers

By | Travel Tips, Uncategorized

Like many things on Vancouver Island, travel is a year-round pursuit for residents.

So it’s no surprise that, even at the height of camping season, the most common questions we’re asked at Nanaimo Airport are all about vacation planning. Here are the answers to your questions (full details are at

What identification do I need for air travel?

If you’re aged 12 and above and travelling in Canada, you must have either:

  • one piece of valid government-issued photo ID ;
  • or two pieces of valid government-issued non-photo ID

In all cases, the ID must show your name, date of birth, and gender. If you’re planning international travel, a valid passport is a must. It’s also a good idea to use the Internet to check the customs agency requirements of the country you plan to visit.

How soon before my flight departs should I arrive at Nanaimo Airport?

  • We recommend arriving at least 90 minutes prior to Air Canada Express and WestJet Encore departures. You must have checked in, obtained your boarding pass and checked in all your bags 45 minutes before your flight.
  • Island Express passengers should arrive 30 minutes in advance.

What parking is available?

Nanaimo Airport offers long- and short-term stalls, as well as onsite parking for persons with disabilities. It’s $10 a day for the first 7 days, then $5 per additional day. Check our Parking Information page for full details.

If I don’t want to take my car, how can I get to the airport?

As you’ll see on our Ground Transportation page, you have many options: Nanaimo Airporter Shuttle; AC Taxi and Yellow Cab; and Greyhound bus.

If I check in early, what services are available in the departure lounge?

You can relax as we have plenty of comfortable seating, TVs with news and sports, free Internet, a play area for your kids, and food and beverage services.