The Nanaimo Airport is pictured: Jan. 7, 2021: (CTV News)

The Nanaimo Airport Commission has put together a $28.8 million capital plan to make improvements to the airport over the next five years, with the hope of attracting a sun destination once things get back to normal.

“In the future, when things turn around, we will be ready,” said Dave Devana, president of the Nanaimo Airport.

The majority of the improvements will be to the airport’s infrastructure and will include improvements to lighting when aircraft are landing, runway rehabilitation and expanding the apron for loading and off-loading passengers.

With these improvements and when non-essential travel is recommended, the airport hopes to attract a sun destination.

“The ones we are thinking about are Las Vegas and maybe Puerto Vallarta,” said Devana.

“We have a catchment basin here of about 400,000 people that use this airport, and we think our customers would like to add that type of opportunity here,” he said.

The Nanaimo Airport is not an international airport and in order for a sun destination to be offered, Devana says the airport would need to obtain regulatory approvals for international flights.

“Comox Airport, for example, is a similar size airport and they have those types of flights,” he said.

Prior to the pandemic, the Nanaimo Airport was the fastest growing airport in the province and was running just over 500,000 passengers through its terminal in 2019.

“We had our best year ever,” said Devana.

To keep up with demand, the airport launched a terminal expansion just before the pandemic hit.

“(It was) completed in February just prior to COVID coming along, so it hasn’t been getting the use that we would have expected,” said Devana.

Expecting another banner year, the airport instead saw passenger numbers drop by 96 per cent at the beginning of the pandemic, and are now averaging around 70 per cent.

“Instead of around 500,000 passengers for 2020 we had 181,000,” said Devana.

The Nanaimo Airport is hopeful that things will turn around this year and that it will start to see another 500,000 passengers come through its doors in 2022.